A busy time in Mongolia
Dr Shin Young-soo visited Mongolia from 9 to 12 July. It was his first official visit to Mongolia as Regional Director. He was joined by Dr Wiwat Rojanapithayakorn, the WHO Representative in Mongolia, for four busy days that included meetings with Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold, Minister for Health Sambuu Lambaa, senior officials and staff from WHO and other United Nation agencies.
Site visits were made to the Health Sciences University of Mongolia, the National Blood Center and two local hospitals.
"I am pleased to note the close working relationship between Mongolia and the Western Pacific Regional Office, developed over the years and over numerous projects and programmes that we worked on together. This partnership has been very productive, especially in the exchange of knowledge and experience on health challenges and issues. We will continue to further strengthen this tie to protect the health of the Mongolian people"
– Dr Shin Young-soo.
During his visit, Dr Shin launched the Country Cooperation Strategy, jointly developed by WHO and the Government of Mongolia. This strategy defines the broad framework for WHO’s work with the Government of Mongolia from 2010 to 2015. It articulates a coherent vision and priorities for WHO to support the Government in promoting health and strengthening the health system to ensure universal access to essential health services, especially for those living in the rural and remote areas. The strategy was signed in May 2010 and has been recognized by Prime Minister Batbold Sukhbaatar as serving an important role to the development of the health sector in Mongolia. Mr Sukhbaatar expressed his thanks to WHO and the support the Organization has been providing to Mongolia.
During the visit, Dr Shin acknowledged Mongolia's efforts in health reform. The health system in Mongolia has seen significant improvement over the years, he said. In terms of Millennium Development Goal 6, gains are being made in tuberculosis control and the country remains low prevalence for HIV/AIDS. There is also a general declining trend in communicable diseases, and Mongolia enjoys high immunization coverage. The Government is undertaking health sector reforms to further strengthen health service systems in the country. During the recent outbreak of pandemic influenza A(H1N1) 2009, the Government made a great effort and worked closely with WHO in mitigating the effects of the pandemic. Dr Shin also expressed his appreciation to Mongolia for serving as a member of the WHO Executive Board beginning from this year.
The trip could not have been completed without first-hand experience of real Mongolian culture. The delegation was invited to the opening ceremony of Naadam, a traditional festival. It is also known locally as eriin gurvan naadam, which means "the three games of men". Naadam is also the funniest and happiest time for Mongolians. Organized between 11 and 13 July every year, it includes horse racing, wrestling and archery.
The four-day visit was concluded with a retreat with WHO Country Office staff, where Dr Shin met with colleagues. Dr Shin shared his vision for the Western Pacific Region and gave an update on the reforms at the Regional Office for the Western Pacific.
Also known as the Land of Blue Sky, Mongolia is located in the heart of Central Asia, sandwiched between the Peoples Republic of China and the Russian Federation. At more than 1.5 million square kilometres, it is the 19th-largest country in the world and also the world's second-largest landlocked country. The total population in 2008 was estimated at 2.68 million, living sparsely over a vast territory and making it the least-populated country in the world. This sparsely distributed population makes it challenging to deliver health care services to rural and remote areas, especially to herders who lead a nomadic lifestyle. Mongolia is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding and dzud (extremely cold weather). Mongolia has severe climatic conditions with long, cold winters (as low as -30C) and short, hot summers (20+C).
On the health front, Mongolia is experiencing an epidemiological and demographic transition. On the one hand, overall communicable diseases have decreased over the years, but they still account for a high proportion of overall mortality and are of significant socio-economic importance. The main communicable diseases include sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis. Overall noncommunicable diseases account for more than 70% morbidity and mortality. The country faces double burden of communicable and noncommunicable diseases.
WHO in Mongolia
Throughout the years, WHO has established a good working relationship with the Government, especially with the Ministry of Health. WHO has remained a valuable technical resource for and special partner of the Government of Mongolia, especially in responding to changing health needs and priorities of the country, and thereby contributing to the improvement of the health status of the population.
WHO remains one of the key partners along with other United Nations agencies and other bilateral and multilateral development partners and international nongovernmental organizations working in the health sector. WHO in Mongolia has been credited for its technical expertise in wide areas of public health, knowledge management, scientific information sharing and networking, as well as resource mobilization for the health sector.