WHO regional meeting opens in Manila to tackle health issues

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, opened its sixty-fifth session today in Manila to review WHO's work over the past year and to discuss major health issues. The Regional Committee will also decide on measures the Organization will take to address the health and well-being of the Region's 1.8 billion people.

The items to be discussed include the following:

  • the importance of mental health and the heavy burden of mental disorders;
  • tobacco control, specifically ways to increase institutional capacity, effective policies and governance, and multisectoral actions and partnerships;
  • antimicrobial resistance and the need for a strong action plan to combat this emerging threat in the Region;
  • strengthening immunization programmes to build on achievements and improve access to vaccinations;
  • preventing and mitigating risks associated with disasters through the prevention, preparedness, response and recovery; and
  • progress reports on International Health Regulations (2005), food safety, malaria, tuberculosis, dengue, noncommunicable diseases, environmental health, violence and injury prevention, nutrition, universal health coverage and the Millennium Development Goals.

In his opening address to the Regional Committee, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo expressed gratitude to the Philippines, which has served as the home of the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific since 1951. "We doubly appreciate your hospitality in hosting this year's session of the Regional Committee," said Dr Shin.

Dr Shin underscored the importance of adapting to better serve Member States. "At the start of my second term, I looked at ways to work harder and smarter. We must be willing to constantly reinvent ourselves to fulfil our mission of service to Member States as their health needs change." Dr Shin added, "…We must find new and innovative ways to improve on our performance. We must focus not only on what Member States need now — but also anticipate their future public health needs."

Dr Shin reminded Member States that the Western Pacific Region has long been a hotspot for many emerging diseases, and how managing SARS, the first major disease outbreak of the 21st century, has made them stronger so that they are better prepared than ever for Ebola virus disease. Results from a recent survey of the Region’s members showed good preparedness to detect and respond to Ebola, and a regional emergency operations centre is on high alert.

“The risk for transmission here is low, but the consequences are high so we must be prepared,” he concluded. “The Ebola crisis drives home a simple truth — investing in health security during so-called normal times is absolutely vital.”

In his speech, President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Republic of the Philippines recalled that the last time the Philippines hosted the Regional Committee was 25 years ago, when his mother, President Corazon Aquino, welcomed delegates.

President Aquino told members, “Outbreaks of illnesses and diseases like the MERS-Corona Virus and Ebola are among the greatest challenges the world faces today.” He talked about the value that the WHO Regional Committee brings to working on these issues together. “Today we affirm: no man is an island. Similarly: no country can operate or achieve its full development in isolation from others.”

Dr Ian Smith, Executive Director of WHO's Office of the Director-General, spoke on behalf of WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. His remarks focused on the current Ebola outbreak, highlighting that WHO's key arguments are "now falling on receptive ears." He also underscored some lessons already apparent from the global response.

  • The outbreak shows the world's growing social and economic inequalities.
  • Rumours and panic spread faster than the virus.
  • The world is put at risk when a deadly virus hits the destitute.
  • Decades of neglected basic health systems and services can bring a fragile country to its knees. .
  • There is a lack of research and development incentive as evidenced by the absence of an Ebola vaccine.
  • The world is ill-prepared to respond to a severe, sustained and threatening public health emergency.

Dr Smith also noted that these arguments "underscore how right WHO and its Regional Offices have been in arguing for the strengthening of basic public health infrastructures, aiming for universal health coverage, and recognizing the urgent need to strengthen IHR core capacities (that help countries prevent and respond to acute public health risks that have the potential to cross borders)."

The Regional Committee meets each year to set policies and approve programmes of work and budgets. It is comprised of representatives from the Region's 37 countries and areas.

For more information, please contact

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Public Information Office
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
United Nations Avenue corner Taft Avenue, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@wpro.who.int

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