Regional health leaders target elimination of: measles and rubella; HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis in babies

News release

BRISBANE, Australia, 11 October 2017 – Ministers of health and senior officials from 37 countries and areas today endorsed regional action plans for eliminating measles and rubella, as well as mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis. They also called for action to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing. In addition, they took steps to strengthen health promotion for sustainable development.

On the third day of the 68th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, delegates noted progress in the area of health security—making people safer from infectious disease outbreaks and health emergencies.

Eliminating measles and rubella

Measles and rubella are viruses that spread easily among people who are not immunized, and they share common symptoms: fever and rash. Measles can be deadly, especially among children who are malnourished. Rubella infection is particularly serious for pregnant women, who can suffer miscarriage or whose babies can have birth defects including blindness, deafness and heart disease.

When countries have strong immunization programmes—that use a single vaccine to protect against measles and rubella, effective systems to detect both diseases, and laboratories that can test for both and confirm the diagnosis—they can work towards eliminating measles and rubella at the same time. Two countries in the Region—New Zealand and the Republic of Korea—have just become the first to be confirmed as having eliminated both diseases, showing that it can be done. Both recognise, however, that they must remain vigilant and continue improving vaccination rates so that any imported cases of these diseases don’t spread amongst unimmunized people.

Building on this important milestone, and existing efforts to eliminate measles, delegates today committed to eliminating rubella in their countries and areas as soon as possible. They endorsed the Measles and Rubella Elimination in the Western Pacific: Regional Strategy and Plan of Action.

Eliminating HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis in babies

A regional framework to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis in Asia and the Pacific by 2030 was also endorsed. At present, 180 000 babies in the Western Pacific Region are infected each year with hepatitis B, 13 000 with syphilis and 1400 with HIV through mother-to-child transmission. There are medicines and vaccines to prevent these infections, but too many mothers and babies are not getting them. Close coordination between maternal, newborn and child health programmes and disease prevention programmes is needed. Through the regional framework endorsed today, governments pledged to reorient health services so they can more effectively deliver interventions and stop these preventable infections.

Protecting children from the harmful impact of food marketing

Delegates today expressed concern about the harmful effects of food marketing on the diet and health of children and called on WHO to develop a regional action plan on protecting children from the harmful impact of food marketing

The majority of food marketing is for products that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, free sugars or salt. Studies show that, when children are exposed to food marketing, this results in changes in their diets. And when parents are exposed to marketing of breast-milk substitutes such as infant formula and so-called “follow-on milks”, this undermines breastfeeding. Despite international commitments and guidance to mitigate the negative impact, breast-milk substitutes, processed foods of low nutritional value, and sugary drinks continue to be marketed.

A WHO report reviewed by the Regional Committee summarizes evidence and shares experiences from countries on protecting children from the harmful impact of food marketing.

Health promotion for sustainable development

Delegates today endorsed a Regional Action Plan on Health Promotion in the Sustainable Development Goals (2018–2030). Policy gaps and misalignments, weak infrastructure, and poor health literacy hinder progress on health promotion and slow countries’ overall progress towards sustainable development. The action plan focuses on building healthy cities and communities, and enhancing people's knowledge of how to protect their health.

Managing health security threats

The Western Pacific Region is a hot spot for emerging diseases and public health events that pose serious threats to national, regional and global health security. WHO works with countries to strengthen their capacity to prepare for and identify emerging infectious diseases, assess the risk they pose, and respond effectively. Delegates noted progress that has been guided by the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases and Public Health Emergencies (APSED III).

The Region’s health leaders supported work that is under way to develop a five-year global strategic plan to improve public health preparedness and response. In the Western Pacific, it will build on the momentum of APSED III implementation for advancing the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005). The global plan will be submitted in May 2018 to the World Health Assembly—the annual meeting in Geneva of health ministers from all WHO Regions.

Tomorrow at the Regional Committee, health leaders are expected to endorse action plans to ensure the safety of medicines and competence of health workforce; the financing of priority health services; and safety of food. They will also discuss progress in: noncommunicable diseases, tobacco control, mental health, tuberculosis, hepatitis, traditional medicine, and gender and health.


Notes to editors

The 68th session of the Regional Committee can be viewed live on the WHO website (www.wpro.who.int) and updates are being posted on the @WHOWPRO Twitter account with the hashtag #RCM68.

Media who wish to attend the Regional Committee at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre are required to register for accreditation by contacting:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Mobile: +63 908 891 4532
Email: serranor@who.int

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the United Nations agency responsible for public health. WHO works with governments and other partners to ensure the highest attainable level of health for all people. Made up of 194 Member States, WHO’s headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland; there are six regional offices, and more than 150 country offices around the world. The Regional Office for the Western Pacific is in Manila, Philippines.

Each of the six WHO regions has its own regional committee—composed of ministers of health and senior officials from Member States—which meets annually. In the Western Pacific Region, the Regional Committee takes place in Manila or in a host country in alternate years.

The 37 countries and areas of the WHO Western Pacific Region are: American Samoa (USA), Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia (France), Guam (USA), Hong Kong SAR (China), Japan, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Macao SAR (China), Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, New Caledonia (France), New Zealand, Niue, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (USA), Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands (UK), Republic of Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, and Wallis and Futuna (France).

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