Closing remarks of Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific at the Biregional Meeting on Healthy Borders in the Greater Mekong Subregion

Bangkok, Thailand
7 August 2013

H.E. Dr Pradit Sintavanarong, Minister of Public Health, Royal Thai Government;

H.E. Professor Pe Thet Khin, Union Minister of Health, Myanmar;

H.E. Dr Le Luong Minh, Secretary General, Association of South East Asian Nations Secretariat;

Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, Regional Director of the Southeast Asia Regional Office, WHO;

Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First, allow me to express my deepest appreciation to Thailand for their hospitality in hosting this event, and to the staff from the WHO regions that organized these proceedings.

Thanks to all participants for taking the time and care to attend this meeting.

We are approaching the conclusion of an exciting and ground breaking event.

The Healthy Borders Meeting has set the stage for addressing serious public health problems in a new way, one which calls for an active involvement of many sectors.

Health in border areas in the Greater Mekong Subregion cannot be addressed without understanding its complex and multi-factorial nature.

Artemisinin resistance, our case in point for the purposes of this meeting, is really everybody’s business.

This meeting gave us an opportunity to analyse and understand the complexities of artemisinin resistance and the need to approach this public health crisis from the perspective of all the relevant sectors.

Highly vulnerable population groups such as migrants are of primary concern to us.

They often have little or no access to proper health care, which means that they are more likely to contract malaria and not receive proper treatment, thus increasing the likelihood of resistance.

While investments in mining, forestry, communications, tourism and other sectors are key to ensuring sustainable development, these sectors often fail to address their potential impact on health and the environment.

The good news is that more development agencies are paying attention to potential health and environmental impacts.

This meeting was extremely rich and productive in analysing the various determinants underlying the concept of Healthy Borders in an innovative way.

It brought key sectors together in order to find a common ground and address synergies to tackle public health issues such as artemisinin resistance.

This type of analysis and suggested actions are key to the success of the containment of the artemisinin resistance problem but also to the containment of multi-drug resistant TB and HIV/AIDS. We must remember that decades of major investments and development gains could be easily reverted if we fail to tackle the complex border dynamics in a holistic way.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first time that the two WHO regions have joined forces to convene such a meeting, and to reach out, together with our partners, to other sectors which are not usually engaged in health issues.

The contents of the sessions, from background papers, introductory statements, speakers’ presentations, and contributions of panellists, were engaging, comprehensive and thought provoking. This rich package of information and discussions assisted us in establishing links between various issues and each of the relevant sectors. We were thus able to deliver useful outcomes and draw recommendations for this meeting.

Many of us were pushed beyond our comfort zone. In the past few days, we had rich and wide-ranging discussions, ensuring an exchange of ideas and, hopefully, new ways of thinking about border health. The lively discussions and the level of engagement demonstrate that we were able to live up to the task of thinking outside the box and come up with innovative approaches to bring on board multiple sectors.

Clearly, the healthy borders concept is a multi-dimensional challenge. I am convinced, however that we can meet this challenge.

For the sake of ensuring the successful translation of the meeting’s outcomes into action, I would hope that our colleagues and friends in ASEAN could make certain these outcomes are raised at the upcoming Senior Officials on Health Development Meeting on 26–30 August 2013 in Singapore and at the ASEAN Health Ministers’ Meeting in Da Nang, Viet Nam in August 2014, perhaps even at next year’s ASEAN Summit.

I endorse the idea of a Member State-led mechanism such as a Healthy Border Steering Committee, which could secure the translation of recommendations into actions.

ASEAN led political buy-in, by various sectors, would be essential.

WHO is firmly committed to supporting such a coordination body to address complex border public health issues and health emergency-related challenges.

Ladies and gentlemen, we must find better ways of addressing public health issues in border areas in and around the Mekong. The region’s development may well depend on our ability to mitigate health risks.

I call upon all of you, health officials, officials in non-health sectors, key partners within the health sector and beyond, to join forces behind the Healthy Borders initiative.

WHO is the leading health agency within the UN system. We can and should contribute significantly to this multisectoral effort.

Let me thank each of you for taking the time to attend this meeting. Your valuable feedback and your commitment will make a real difference in the well-being of the people of the Greater Mekong Subregion and beyond.

A special word of appreciation goes to our Chairs, speakers and panel members, and to the Asian Development Bank for taking on the responsibility for organizing session 4, as well as for facilitating the participation of Vice President Groff. His presence raised the profile of this biregional meeting significantly.

Our deepest appreciation goes to the various government sectors of our Member States for their participation. This is very encouraging as it demonstrates their interest and concern for health in border areas, as well as their acknowledgement of the importance of multisectoral environment.

Altogether, and in spite of our wide range of backgrounds, host agencies and many sectors, we were able to build a momentum over the past few days.

Let’s keep this momentum and continue to work together for the better health of all in the Greater Mekong Subregion and beyond.

I wish you all a pleasant trip home.