Sixty-second Session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific
Dr Shin Young-soo
World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific
MR CHAIRPERSON, HONOURABLE MINISTERS AND DISTINGUISHED REPRESENTATIVES FROM OUR MEMBER STATES, REPRESENTATIVES FROM PARTNER AGENCIES, DR MARGARET CHAN, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, COLLEAGUES, LADIES and GENTLEMEN
Welcome to the sixty-second session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific — the first session of our governing body to be held in our newly renovated Conference Hall.
We had planned to meet in Manila last year. But the typhoon that swept through the Philippines in September 2009 caused extensive damage to this Conference Hall and to other facilities at the Regional Office.
Knowing that repairs would take time, the Government of Malaysia graciously offered to host last year's session in Putrajaya. On behalf of WHO and all of our Member States, I wish to once again thank Malaysia for hosting a successful meeting.
Those of you who have not visited the Regional Office for some time will immediately notice changes to our building.
We removed the parking area just inside our gate so that visitors are now greeted by a more open and inviting tropical setting.
The renovated Conference Hall has retained its iconic look but with a modern twist. Artful internal design has created an elegant but functional interior. Better use of the space allows for more breakout meetings and functions. And there are also many renovations that you can not see, such as better drainage and improved fresh air intake.
These buildings belong to you, our Member States. I hope that you will agree with me that we now have a Regional Office to be proud of and one that will serve us well for generations.
Many of you will have seen the art exhibition around the Conference Hall. The exhibit has been generously loaned to us by the Ayala Museum to celebrate the first use of the Conference Hall by the Regional Committee.
As you heard this morning, we are hoping that Member States will donate art work for a permanent exhibition on the theme of "Healing and Caring" that will reflect the diversity of the Western Pacific Region.
Since we last met, the global public health community has faced a year of change and challenge. The global financial crisis has impacted on many of us, limiting resources and constraining the ability of WHO to develop new initiatives to assist Member States.
Despite the challenging environment much has been achieved this year. Our annual report — The Work of WHO in the Western Pacific Region — provides details of these achievements. I trust that you have had an opportunity to read the report and will raise any questions you might have with me or any of our Directors.
Rather than go over the details in the annual report, I would like to focus much of my speech today on the challenges that remain as we work together to reach our shared goal of good health for all people of the Western Pacific Region.
Last year I made some personal commitments to you. I promised to continue to push forward in four priority areas: achieving the health-related Millennium Development Goals, addressing noncommunicable diseases, improving health security, and strengthening health systems.
I also promised to pull some neglected diseases back into the spotlight.
And finally, I promised to reach out and work in greater partnership with others.
As a Region, we can be pleased with the progress made towards MDG 4 – Reducing Child Mortality.
I am also pleased to report that the Western Pacific Region is on track to meet MDG 6 - combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Such has been the progress with malaria that nine out of the ten malaria affected countries in our Region have now formulated national elimination plans.
But these gains could soon be reversed if we do not tackle antimicrobial resistance. Multidrug resistance to malaria and tuberculosis treatments is rising in our Region.
None of us wants to return to a pre-treatment antibiotics era. That is why antimicrobial resistance is on our agenda for discussion this week. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how we might urgently tackle this critical issue.
But progress with MDG 5 — improving maternal health — is still lagging behind.
The reasons for this are complex. Certainly weak health systems and lack of well-trained community health workers are major factors. But the more I travel, the more I realize that much our failure is related to the low position that women occupy in many of our societies.
Gender-based violence in our Region is shockingly high.
Too many women lack access to safe contraceptives and hence have little control over their own fate.
Promoting gender equality and empowering women — the focus of MDG 3 — are key to reducing the tragic toll of maternal, infant and child deaths.
That is why last year, I highlighted the need to mainstream gender perspectives in all our technical work. I am therefore pleased to announce that a new report — Women and Health in the Western Pacific Region: Remaining Challenges and New Opportunities — has just been published. The report shows us where we are now and, most importantly, what still needs to be done.
Tomorrow, we will be devoting more than half a day to noncommunicable diseases.
The United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on NCD Prevention and Control — held just three weeks ago in New York — was a remarkable success. World leaders made a commitment to taking a multisectoral approach to addressing NCDs. They also reaffirmed WHO’s role as leader in the global battle against NCDs.
NCD work undertaken by our Member States — including the Nadi Statement, the Seoul Declaration and the Honiara Communiqué — helped ensure that the collective voice of the Western Pacific Region was reflected in the summit’s political declaration.
We now need to turn political recognition into concrete action - particularly in low-resource settings where the impact of the rising tide of NCDs will be felt the hardest.
The strenuous work by many of our Member States particularly in implementing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control even in the face of pressure by the tobacco industry, provides examples of what can be achieved through strong political commitment.
I was delighted earlier this year when Dr Chan recognised the courage and leadership of Dr York Chow, Secretary for Food and Health, Hong Kong, China and The Honourable Nicola Roxon, Minister of Health and Ageing, Australia. Both leaders have worked tirelessly to reduce tobacco consumption and have demonstrated what can be achieved when there is strong political commitment to addressing NCD risk factors.
As we are all aware, our Region sadly encounters more than its fair share of natural disasters. Worldwide attention was drawn to the tragic earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the devastating triple emergency — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster — in Japan.
I visited the site of these disasters and thank both Governments for hosting me during such difficult times. Despite the tragic loss of lives and billions and billions of dollars in damage, the strength, determination and community spirit of the people of Japan and the people of New Zealand was evident everywhere I travelled.
The triple disaster in Japan tested all aspects of WHO's emergency response. It also demonstrated the importance of preparedness and the need for an integrated approach to disaster management.
We owe it to the victims of these — and the many other disasters in our Region — to put the lessons learnt into practice and to continue to build a health-secure Region. That is why we have added a special item on disasters and emergencies to our agenda on Wednesday.
As we all know, our Region was declared polio-free more than a decade ago. Thus, the news of the importation of a wild poliovirus in China required urgent action. China has responded quickly to the outbreak dispatching many experts to the field and undertaking mass vaccination campaigns. WHO staff from Headquarters, the Regional Office and our Country Office are working closely with Chinese experts to address the remaining challenges.
The outbreak in China is a powerful reminder to all of us that until the world is polio free, all countries remain vulnerable to importations. We must maintain high vaccination coverage rates throughout our region and must continue to support endemic countries in neighbouring regions to eradiate polio as soon as possible.
Now, I wish to report on the successes that have been achieved in some neglected diseases.
Work to eliminate yaws, leprosy and lymphatic filariasis – awful diseases that should have been banished from the pacific a long time ago - is progressing rapidly.
A new Action Framework for Leprosy Control and Rehabilitation in the Pacific Island Countries is now in place. An Action Framework, based on the findings of an in-depth survey, will soon be available to support yaws elimination in Vanuatu. And country-specific plans to eliminate lymphatic filariasis completely from the Pacific are now being implemented.
My final commitment last year concerned reaching out and working in greater partnership with others.
After many years of working on somewhat parallel tracks, a series of very constructive discussions this year resulted in the signing of a special memorandum of understanding between myself and my counterpart in UNAIDS in Bangkok.
This MOU is more than just a piece of paper. It represents a new level of engagement at regional level between the two agencies and a clear path through which we can now work to support our Member States.
Collaborative agreements that again focus on how we can work side by side at country level were also reached with the Global Fund and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
I am also particularly proud of two additional achievements this year— our strengthened focus and partnerships in the Pacific and our stronger relationships with the United Nations Secretariat.
The new Division of Pacific Technical Support, based in Fiji, has allowed us to reach out more effectively to our Member States in the Pacific and work more closely with key partners, particularly the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
The Ninth Meeting of Ministers of Health for the Pacific Island Countries, generously hosted by the Government of Solomon Islands in June, provided an invaluable opportunity to understand better the needs of the Pacific.
Representatives from 21 Pacific island countries and areas took part in this meeting, as well as 11 representatives from United Nations offices and other organizations.
Priorities raised in that meeting are now forming the basis for our work over the next two years in the Pacific.
As I mentioned earlier, I am also proud of our strengthened engagement with the United Nations Secretariat. In September, I joined the United Nations Secretary‑General Ban Ki-moon on his official visit to Australia, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and New Zealand. The visit provided insights into the many challenges faced across the Pacific and a chance to explore how, as United Nations family, we can better serve the people of the region.
Health systems remain fragmented in many parts of the Western Pacific Region. We need to work together to strengthen systems in a more coherent manner.
We have seen some remarkable progress when the focus for health system strengthening has been placed on developing good primary health care and on achieving universal access – the twin foundations of an effective health system.
Investment in developing primary health care has resulted in significant progress in the Lao People's Democratic Republic. WHO and other partners have worked with the Government to focus efforts on strengthening health care grassroots level, and documented improvements in maternal and child health have already been achieved.
The Philippines is moving forward with efforts to achieve universal health care for all Filipinos. The Aquino Health Agenda provides strong political support for expansion of current health insurance systems to create a National Health Insurance Program that could ultimately provide protection of all citizens. I commend these efforts and the leadership that President Aquino is taking in this critical area.
Our Director-General has highlighted WHO's need to keep pace with evolving global health needs. She updated us on the consultative process to seek guidance from our Member States on reforming WHO for a Healthy Future.
Consultations with Member States and internal discussions will soon result in a comprehensive global reform plan for WHO. Reform will encompass our technical work, the way we manage that work and the way in which our organization is governed.
I fully support all the steps that Dr Chan is taking to ensure that our organization is 'fit for purpose' and I applaud Dr Chan for her tireless efforts.
As you are aware, in this region we launched a programme to revitalize and develop our organization two years ago. Some of the initiatives we have put in place have already improved the way we work. And some of these initiatives, I am proud to say, are now being used as models in other WHO regions.
We have done a lot to make our organization leaner and more effective. But I firmly believe that we still need to do more.
We need to show that we can add value particularly where it matters most – at country level.
With support from the Australian Government, we have now launched a further programme of development within the region focused specifically on enhancing our performance at country level. This compliments the areas of global reform that Dr Chan is proposing and will provide examples that could be adopted elsewhere in the organization.
But what do we mean by 'adding value' and enhancing our performance at country level?
It means supporting our Member States and partners to better understand the health problems faced in their country, particularly for those people living in the margins of society. It means being able to provide advice on interventions in a way that can easily be transformed in robust national policies and plans. And it means being able to help facilitate the processes – global, regional and within country - needed to improve health.
But a regional office can not do this alone. We are part of a much larger organization. We need your input on the global reform that Dr Chan has courageously embarked upon. And we need your support to develop a better global, and regional organization.
WHO is at the tipping point. Together we have the opportunity to move the organization forward. I look forward to hearing your thoughts in this afternoon as we discuss reforming WHO for a healthy future.