Countries pledge to fund priority public health services; make medicines, the health workforce and food safer

News release

Governments from across the Region today pledged to take action to ensure the safety of medicines and competence of health workers. They also agreed on frameworks for the financing of priority health services and for making food safer. Ministers and senior officials at the 68th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific also noted progress in areas of public health including: noncommunicable diseases, tobacco control, mental health, tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis, traditional medicine, and gender and health.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, attending the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific for the first time since he took office in July, said “I have come to realize that the world expects WHO to do three things: to keep the world safe, to improve health, and to serve the vulnerable And in many ways, we already do all three. But we can and must do better.”

Dr Tedros outlined his priorities, giving particular emphasis to universal health coverage, global health security, and progress towards the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. He also sought ministers’ input to shape WHO’s programme of work for 2019–2023.

Safe medicines and competent health workers

Everyone needs health services at some point in their lives, and they expect the care and medicines they receive to be of good quality. Regulating medicines and the health workforce is becoming increasingly complex as new treatments and services become available, and as people and products cross borders. Drugs that are not safe must be taken off the market. Health workers must be competent to treat patients. Some countries need help to implement all of the regulatory functions that make medicines and the health workforce safer.

At the Regional Committee, health leaders today endorsed the Western Pacific Regional Action Agenda on Regulatory Strengthening, Convergence and Cooperation for Medicines and the Health Workforce. This will help countries strengthen their national regulatory systems, and promote closer cooperation between countries to ensure people across the Region can be confident of the safety of medicines and competence of health workers.

Financing priority public health services

All countries need health systems that are sustainably financed and resilient in the face of economic downturns, natural disasters and new health challenges. Many Member States in the Region are facing reductions in external funding or shifting funding from government programmes to health insurance funds. Countries need to make changes to ensure they can continue to deliver essential services such as immunization, and control diseases such as TB and HIV.

The Regional Framework for Action on Transitioning to Integrated Financing of Priority Public Health Services in the Western Pacific endorsed today recommends investing in essential public health functions to secure health gains made by priority preventive health programmes, with adequate domestic financing, and better use of resources.

Improving food safety

Unsafe food—containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals—causes more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Foodborne disease risks cannot be eliminated, but they can be reduced. The way food is produced, distributed and consumed is changing. Technology is advancing, and consumer demand for safer food is growing. These changes require a new approach to addressing food safety in the Region.

Delegates today endorsed the Regional Framework for Action on Food Safety in the Western Pacific. It aims to make food safer for the Region’s almost 1.9 billion residents and support sustainable development.

Noncommunicable diseases

The Regional Committee took note of WHO actions to strengthen country capacity in controlling noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancers and diabetes. They noted, in particular, the innovative educational manual developed by WHO for health workers to counsel patients across the Region on the prevention and management of hypertension and diabetes.

Tobacco control

Regional health leaders noted that, in recent years, tobacco use has declined in two thirds of the countries and areas of the Western Pacific Region. Seven countries recently raised tobacco taxes to further reduce the burden of smoking-related diseases. More people are now protected from second hand smoke as countries and cities strengthen bans on smoking in public places and on public transport. In addition, strong, graphic health warning labels on tobacco products are now used in nearly half of the countries and areas in the Region.

Mental health

Delegates noted the support WHO has provided in recent years to many countries in the Region to strengthen mental health policies and programmes. In addition, this year, the theme of World Health Day was Depression: Let's Talk. The campaign addressed stigma and raised awareness.

Tuberculosis

Countries reported that, with support from WHO, they are rolling out national strategies and plans in line with the Regional Framework for Action on Implementation of the End TB Strategy in the Western Pacific 2016–2020. A particular focus is on ensuring no one faces catastrophic costs due treatment of TB. However, drug-resistant TB remains a problem in the Region.

Hepatitis

Australia, Japan, Kiribati, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore and Viet Nam reported that they have developed comprehensive national action plans to tackle hepatitis. In addition, Mongolia has developed a national policy to eliminate hepatitis C. Steady progress has been made towards improving access to treatment for hepatitis B and C in the Region.

Traditional medicine

Traditional and complementary medicines are widely used in countries of this Region. Access to qualified practitioners and safe products is vital. Delegates today took note of WHO’s support to countries on policies to integrate traditional medicine into their health systems. WHO has supported the development of legal frameworks for traditional medicine in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and identified key safety and quality issues related to traditional medicine in 13 Pacific island countries.

Gender and health

Gender is an important determinant of health conditions and access to health services. Responding to Member State concerns regarding gender-based violence, WHO has strengthened its technical support. A regional campaign, Human Together, has been implemented in countries over the past year.

The Regional Committee concludes tomorrow, following discussions on WHO reform and the agenda for next year’s Regional Committee session, to take place in October 2018 in Manila, Philippines.


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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