WHO urges countries to meet health-related MDGs

News release

"With the deadline for attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) only three years away, wide disparities between and within countries need to be urgently addressed if the goals are to truly benefit vulnerable populations," World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo said today.

"Unless urgent action is taken, we will likely fall short in some areas, especially in reducing maternal and child mortality and improving maternal health," Dr Shin told the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Hanoi, convened to review WHO's work in the Region. "The battle must continue."

The under-five mortality rate has dropped by 60% in the Region, from 48 deaths per 1000 in 1990 to 19 per 1000 in 2010. However, six countries still account for an estimated 97% of the under-five deaths—Cambodia, China, the Lao People Democratic Republic, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

Disparities in child mortality also persist within countries. In Cambodia, for example, the overall under-five mortality rate is 54 per 1000 live births. However, it ranges from 18 per 1000 live births for areas with the highest socioeconomic status to 118 per 1000 live births among the poor.

Urban versus rural disparities also exist, such as in the Philippines, where the under-five mortality rate is 28 per 1000 live births in urban areas and 46 per 1000 in rural areas.

Despite a decreasing trend in maternal mortality in most countries and areas in the Western Pacific, large disparities and inequalities exist both between and within countries. In low-income countries, such as the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is 470 per 100 000 live births – far higher than in middle-income countries, such as Malaysia, where the ratio is 29 per 100 000, and Viet Nam with 59 per 100 000. The MMRs in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea also remain high at 250 and 230 per 100 000 live births, respectively.

In the Region, the HIV epidemic has shown signs of stabilizing with increased coverage of preventive interventions for most-at-risk populations. However, only 43% of those who need treatment for HIV have access to antiretroviral drugs. Access to treatment still needs to be scaled up, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

Lack of universal access to health care is also a pressing issue, with high costs and direct out-of-pocket payments putting health care beyond the reach of many people in the Region. Other barriers include weak health systems and widening health inequities. Also, countries need more reliable civil registration and vital statistics systems to better monitor the burden of diseases and properly target health interventions.

"Universal coverage needs to be improved to enable people to have access to good-quality services without being financially strapped," said Dr Shin. "Particular attention should be given to underserved groups. Failure to act now will further widen health inequities."

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Ms Marilu Lingad
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1272643638
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 891 4532;
E-mail: lingadm@wpro.who.int

Mr Timothy O'Leary
Mobile (Viet Nam): +84 (0)1252093845
Mobile (Philippines): +63 908 886 8738
E-mail: olearyt@wpro.who.int