Speech of Dr Shin Young-Soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific at the Expert Consultation on Western Area Health Initiative

Qingdao, China
12 November 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am pleased to be in Qingdao and particularly at this meeting of experts on the Western Area Health Initiative.

This is an initiative that is close to my heart and something I have wanted to do since becoming the WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

I am pleased that the Chinese Government places a high priority on this initiative.

I am equally delighted that this meeting could coincide with my visit here to attend the Tripartite Heath Ministers' Meeting of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea tomorrow.

I have spent many years in international public health and had the privilege of travelling to many parts of China as a consultant.

The experience has made me keenly aware of the health issues and challenges you face.

When I took over as the Regional Director, I wanted the role of WHO in China to be different than it had been.

I wanted WHO to take a more comprehensive approach —
to help build multi-sectoral programmes to address health issues and challenges.

I also wanted more emphasis on the western regions of China.

This focus gave rise to the Western Area Health Initiative, which now calls out for action.

To hasten results, I appointed a Senior Health Adviser to lead this initiative and made special funds available to carry out baseline studies as soon as possible.

During my previous visit, I met with the Minister of Health, who expressed enthusiastic support.

Likewise, the WHO office in China has met and consulted with the Ministry of Health on several occasions and visited some of the areas planned as pilot projects.

The National Patriotic Health Campaign Committee has been appointed to implement for this project.

This agency has a strong track record in mobilizing multi-sectoral action for health, as it did in the Hygienic Cities Initiative and the Healthy Cities Initiative.

The National Patriotic Health Campaign Committee should enjoy the support of related agencies and experts in China. All of you present here have been identified as experts.

A national advisory committee — composed of members of this group and others selected by the Ministry of Health — will be formed to provide overall guidance and specific expertise to this initiative.

We all know that the western area of China needs priority attention, particularly in health.

Pilot projects of the Western Area Health Initiative are planned for Chongqing Municipality, Shaanxi Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The results of the initiative in these locations will serve as models for the other western regions and developing countries in the Region.

The Western Area Health Initiative is in line with China's Western Development Strategy, started in 2000 to boost the less-developed western regions of China.

The western area of China covers more than 70% of the mainland, yet accounts for fewer than 30% of the population and less than 20% of the country's economic output.

WHO hopes to play an ever-more significant role in promoting healthy development.

One of my priorities is to revitalize the country-focused approach, and I believe that this initiative will pave the way for greater investment and innovation in health.

This initiative entailed extensive collaboration with China's Ministry of Health, which I would like thank for sharing the vision and enthusiasm necessary to bring this to fruition.

Together we identified the pilot project areas, which encompass more than 110 million people from various types of communities.

Over the next five years, we hope to improve measurably the health of people in these pilot areas, increasing life expectancy and improving quality of life.

With health higher on the political agenda, an effective multi-sectoral cooperation mechanism for health can be established.

This will allow us to develop provincial health profiles, strengthen health systems, establish comprehensive health management information systems and implement innovative urban and rural health interventions, which will help reduce inequities in health between urban and rural areas.

I am excited about the potential of this initiative.

We will be drawing heavily on your expertise and years of experience in public health and policy in China to bring improvements to the western area.

Our gathering today lays a foundation.

This group of experts will be one of the best sources of information on the best way to build these programmes, as WHO sets the strategic direction and develops the specific work plans in each of these areas.

Finally, I would like to thank the new WHO Collaborating Centre on Healthy Urbanisation for supporting the WHO China Office in organizing this meeting, and the Ministry of health for all the support provided WHO to make this initiative happen.

I hope your discussions and brainstorming prove valuable to help us all achieve the best results possible from our work in China.

Thank you.