Keynote Speech by Dr Shin Young-soo, Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at the Sixty-third session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific
REPRESENTATIVES FROM MEMBER STATES,
COLLEAGUES FROM WHO AND PARTNER AGENCIES,
LADIES and GENTLEMEN:
1. Welcome to the sixty-third session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific. On behalf of the World Health Organization and all of our Member States, I would like to thank the Government of Viet Nam for its gracious hospitality in hosting this year’s session.
2. This is a critical week. We will be discussing the serious public health challenges that confront the Western Pacific Region and reaching a consensus on how to proceed in the coming year.
3. Our agenda includes issues we’ve tackled before — such as measles and international health regulations — as well as an issue we haven’t considered for some time: nutrition and food security. We will also be discussing injury and violence prevention for the first time.
4. Since our last Regional Committee meeting, Member States have taken decisive actions that will shape WHO's work at the country level well into the future.
5. I'm sure you've seen the headlines about Australia’s law requiring plain packaging for tobacco products to inhibit marketing efforts. The Government has been a pioneer in confronting this main risk factor for noncommunicable diseases.
6. On the other side of the Region, China mounted a major immunization campaign to ensure that an outbreak of imported wild poliovirus did not threaten important gains in the fight against that disease.
7. At the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific, we continued to implement innovative approaches to increase efficiency and to sharpen focus on the challenges that you — our Member States — have told us are your priorities.
8. Soon after I became Regional Director, we embarked on an extensive reform. We identified six areas for improvement and have invested heavily to make the Organization better able to meet the needs of Member States.
9. Some of these reforms – such as staff rotation and learning and development programmes – worked so well that they have been adopted by WHO at the global level.
10. But the job is not done. We face even greater challenges in the next phase of our reform, which is called “Making a Real Difference at Country Level”. Our focus remains clear: to make a difference where it matters most — at country level.
11. The international health arena is now more crowded – which makes WHO's coordinating and convening role more important than ever for countries. In response, we are strengthening our network of offices, as well as their communication and policy-planning capacities.
12. WHO needs to be more nimble to adapt to rapidly changing realities, not only in public health, but also social and economic situations. This requires that WHO's assistance be tailor-made for individual countries.
13. You can see this approach in action with the Western Area Health Initiative in China. This represents a new model of WHO engagement at country level. It sets the vision for subnational assistance to achieve better results wherever countries need them.
14. I was in China in July to personally launch this initiative with Minister Chen Zhu and the leaders from three provincial governments where the initiative is being piloted because of their unique health challenges.
15. A similar approach is also working for the Philippines in support of the Government's drive for universal access to bring health services to the poorest areas of the country.
16. In the Mekong area, joint efforts are also under way to maximize synergies between Member States to address common health challenges and promote knowledge-sharing.
17. With these programmes, we hope to foster a new way of thinking and working to meet the evolving needs of our Member States. We hope to have encouraging updates for you next year on these initiatives.
18. Our goal remains to ensure greater health opportunities for the people of the Western Pacific Region. There is much to celebrate, but we still face significant health challenges — from immunizing all newborn children to improving the lives of the elderly.
19. These challenges drive our focus on reform, accountability and country-specific results. The push for results has become such a part of the DNA of the Western Pacific Region that it has put us at the vanguard of the Organization’s global reform movement.
20. For me, reform starts with rethinking how we handle resources.
21. The Programme Budget 2014–2015 is one of the agenda items for this week. The budget relates closely to the 12th Global Programme of Work, which is the result of extensive consultation with Member States.
22. The programme budget emphasizes important elements of the Global Reform, such as priority-setting and clearly articulated results in defining and synchronizing work at all levels of WHO.
23. This results-oriented thinking underpins the new Global Programme of Work and the 2013–2014 Programme Budget — which are the basis for how resources are used to improve performance.
24. Our annual report — The Work of WHO in the Western Pacific Region — provides the details of our achievements and challenges since this Committee last met. Please take time to read the report and raise any questions you may have with me or any of our directors.
25. As the world’s leading authority on public health, our Organization has continued to take the lead in developing cross-cutting, multisectoral approaches to meet today’s tough challenges.
26. Perhaps no issue better demonstrates the need for these so-called whole-of-society and whole-of-government solutions — and the role WHO plays in coordinating that cooperation — than noncommunicable diseases.
27. As you know, NCDs are responsible for more than four out of five deaths in the Western Pacific Region.
28. Last year, this Committee directed me to work with Member States and development partners on a road map for action mandated by the September 2011 United Nations General Assembly political declaration on NCDs.
29. I want to thank the governments of Australia, China — including Hong Kong and Macao — Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore, as well as our development partners, for their support of this effort.
30. We have taken the lead with country-specific action and support, focusing on the many risk factors for NCDs that start early in life. In the Pacific, for example, recent surveys show that more than half of all adolescents are obese or overweight, which puts them at-risk for many NCDs as they age.
31. In implementation of the United Nations political declaration on NCD prevention and control, we have helped develop multisectoral action plans to address risk factors and their social determinants. We have worked directly with ministries of health and partners throughout the Region to help train health-care workers on essential services for NCDs.
32. At the request of this Committee and the World Health Assembly, we are assisting countries to develop global targets and indicators for NCD control by the end of this year. We are helping to better monitor NCDs and their risk factors.
33. Many countries are taking a lesson from the pioneering work on tobacco control. More countries are raising prices and taxes on tobacco products. That money is being used to fund health promotion foundations and boards — as well as anti-tobacco campaigns — around the Region.
34. On a wider scale, WHO also supports efforts for healthy settings, such as Healthy Cities, Healthy Islands and Health-Promoting Schools — all key elements in the fight against NCDs.
35. Recently, our support has been intensified to help the more than 90 million visually impaired people in the Region.
36. We know that 80% of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured. Last year we started a programme to work with Member States to address the main causes — especially cataracts and trachoma — and support governments in integrating eye care into primary health-care systems.
37. Now under development is the new Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Avoidable Blindness and Visual Impairment 2014–2019 — which spells out collaboration between WHO, Member States and partners.
38. On the subject of prevention, perhaps no single intervention we make is more cost-effective than immunization. That's why we are redoubling our efforts to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases.
39. As you may have read in your working documents, the regional measles incidence rate has dropped from 82 cases per million in 2008 to a record low of 12 cases per million in 2011. And now that number may now be as low as 5.7 cases per million, according to July results.
40. Indeed, impressive progress has been made over the past year on the twin goals — set by this Regional Committee — of measles elimination and hepatitis B control.
41. Thirty-two countries and areas likely have eliminated measles ahead of the 2012 target, but their success still must be verified. And the 2012 milestone for hepatitis B control likely has been met by the Region as a whole and 30 individual countries and areas.
42. Meanwhile, momentum towards maternal and neonatal tetanus elimination has been maintained in all countries in the Region.
43. Except for a few countries with high infant mortality rates, most countries in the Region are on track in reducing child mortality. Most countries are also reducing maternal mortality, though challenges remain in several countries in the Region.
44. We can all take pride in the fact that nine out of 10 malaria-endemic countries have now changed their national goals from control to elimination. Particularly in the Mekong region, countries are gaining the upper hand, even as they simultaneously battle artemisinin resistance.
45. In the fight against multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, we established a regional support mechanism that offers Member States country-specific assistance.
46. Sadly, our Region bears more than one-quarter of worldwide burden of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. If not addressed, these strains could turn into incurable forms of the disease.
47. Last year, I promised to press the fight against neglected tropical diseases that cause needless suffering for many poor and marginalized people. I am pleased to see so many Member States tackling this issue.
48. This Region is the global leader in the fight against lymphatic filariasis, with eight countries consolidating successful interventions and now preparing to verify elimination.
49. Like lymphatic filariasis, most neglected tropical diseases can be eliminated with low-cost and proven solutions. The time has come to make this happen.
50. As we all know, the Western Pacific Region faces more than its share of health emergencies and natural disasters.
51. In recent years, we have been at the epicentre of public health events of international concern and disasters of epic proportions, such as last year’s earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand.
52. WHO leads the “health cluster” response to disasters and emergencies. We have led the charge to incorporate lessons learnt from those natural disasters in order to strengthen preparedness and response efforts in the future.
53. We continue to support Member States in implementing International Health Regulations. The updated workplan for Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases (2010) has been a valuable road map for countries in fulfilling their IHR (2005) requirements.
54. Our new Western Pacific Regional Food Safety Strategy is also providing much-needed guidance for an increasingly globalized world.
55. Based on the strategy, the Regional Committee directed me to support Member States in capacity-building and strengthening food control systems last year.
56. Since then, we have worked on a variety of initiatives, including the formation of a Food Safety Cooperation Working Group with partner agencies to ensure the safety of food in the Region.
57. To sustain past gains while continuing to meet the challenges we face — and prepare for those yet to come — health systems must be strengthened.
58. We focused over the past year on building capacity to engage countries on these issues and tackle the increasingly important issue of health equity.
59. I am pleased to see that universal health care has become a priority for many Member States, despite difficult economic times.
60. We eagerly supported our host, Viet Nam, in the development of its National Health Insurance Initiative. During my visits in November and March, I was pleased to see the country working to expand basic health coverage. Viet Nam wants all of its citizens to have good quality health care, based on need rather than ability to pay.
61. Other countries in the Region have also initiated health sector reforms to enhance access to care, including Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia and the Philippines.
62. As part of expanding primary care, we launched the new Regional Strategy for Traditional Medicine in the Western Pacific last May. We continue to support Member States in implementing the strategy.
63. I talked earlier about tailoring our engagement at the country level to meet the needs of countries in rapidly changing contexts, not only in terms of public health, but also their social and economic situations.
64. This tailored approach is even more critical in the Pacific, where small populations scattered over vast areas create special challenges for health programmes.
65. Our newest division — the Division of Pacific Technical Support — is coordinating the efforts of all WHO offices to support the Pacific countries to implement your health priorities.
66. For the first time, the cooperation strategy includes all 21 countries and areas in the Pacific. This will allow Pacific island communities to work together to address common challenges.
67. At the same time, the country-specific summaries in the strategy clearly outline WHO support for national health plans in each country.
68. In partnership with Member States, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and development partners — such as the Australian Agency for International Development and the New Zealand Aid Programme — we have made progress on many fronts.
69. Let me just highlight a few:
We continue to see promising results on malaria elimination. The evidence shows that scaling up malaria control in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu is having a significant impact as malaria incidence and mortality rates continue to decline.
70. In the Pacific, the fight against neglected tropical diseases has intensified. Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia are making remarkable progress towards controlling leprosy. Solomon Islands was removed from the list of lymphatic filariasis endemic countries last year. Now Niue, Tonga and Vanuatu are next in line to eliminate this disfiguring disease.
71. Pacific countries are responding to the NCD crisis with country-specific packages of services. So far, seven countries have incorporated this approach into primary health-care systems, allowing better management of NCD risk factors.
72. Recently I visited one of the remote provinces of Solomon Islands. I experienced firsthand the early impact of these packages of essential NCD services, as they are known. Villagers were delighted because they now know more about their NCD risks and what they can do to control them. They can even receive counselling and drug treatment at no cost.
73. More countries in the Pacific are ready to implement these packages of services, which we plan to expand across the Region where appropriate.
74. I’ve touched on just a few highlights of the past year on the regional level and in the 37 countries and areas that make up the Western Pacific Region.
75. While many of these accomplishments are significant, they are but a good start. Public health is a highly dynamic field. We must constantly be anticipating and preparing for the next crisis, more than celebrating our successes.
76. As the Region continues to expand economically, we are tackling health inequities so that robust economies translate into healthy populations. History has shown us that nothing helps countries develop faster overall than improving the health of their people.
77. But public health goals — especially universal coverage — are long term and require Member States and partners to stay the course. Sustained action and unwavering commitment are the keys to success.
78. You have seen my commitment firsthand, whether tackling NCDs — which are the leading cause of death and disability in the Region — or neglected tropical diseases.
79. Even in these trying economic times, our disciplined management in the Regional Office and improved communication with partners and stakeholders have allowed us to expand our presence and support in the Region.
80. But we do not rest on our accomplishments. We continue to look for ways to strengthen the Organization and improve our ability to meet the public health challenges of tomorrow.
81. We cannot predict the future, only prepare for it. That's why it pains me when I visit a disaster site and see lives that could have been saved with better preparation.
82. I feel the same sense of loss when I travel the Region and see people suffering from diseases that could have been cured with basic medicine or prevented with a vaccine.
83. This is the fourth time I have addressed the Regional Committee, and this year I am more pleased than ever by our progress.
84. At the same time, I am humbled by the magnitude of the challenges we face.
85. Going forward together, we must build a stronger, more resilient Region with improved health opportunities for all its 1.8 billion people. They are counting on us.