Speech by Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, World Health Day 2013
Your Excellency, President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines;
Honourable Cabinet secretaries and officials of the Philippine Government;
Distinguished members of the diplomatic corps;
Ladies and gentlemen:
Welcome to the World Health Organization Regional Office for the Western Pacific. I wish everyone a happy World Health Day!
On this day 65 years ago, WHO was born.
Its constitution created what is now the world's leading health authority — one organization to help individual countries achieve better health using the world's collective expertise.
It was an enlightened concept then. It is an essential mission now in the age of global health threats.
Today more people live longer and closer to each other than ever before. They also move and travel more.
Trade links countries and populations so much so that a food item — or a virus — can end up halfway around the world in a day.
This growth and globalization creates more challenges for public health, and expands the need for WHO.
Every year WHO tries to focus attention on one theme for World Health Day. This year it's high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is linked to many noncommunicable diseases — which are the leading cause of death and disability in the Region.
Noncommunicable diseases — such as heart disease, cancer, strokes and respiratory illness — are responsible for 63% of deaths in the world.
And 80% of those deaths occur in developing countries.
Among noncommunicable disease risk factors, high blood pressure is called the silent and invisible killer.
High blood pressure already kills 9.4 million each year globally. If we do nothing about it today, it will kill one billion people prematurely in this century.
Adults must check their pressure regularly and take medication if needed. This is especially important for pregnant women. High blood pressure is responsible for 10% of maternal deaths in the Region.
Of course, everyone should consume less salt and avoid tobacco products and too much alcohol. Eating a healthy diet and staying active are also powerful preventative medicine.
Leaders can make a real difference by promoting health. They can raise awareness and push the right policies to ensure that health services are attainable.
As we celebrate World Health Day, it is an opportune time to recognize a leader who has taken bold action to protect the health of his people.
In 1951 — a few years after WHO started — the Philippines graciously offered to host the Regional Office for the Western Pacific. The land on which we are standing was donated, and this office was built in 1958.
For more than 60 years, the Filipino people have proven generous and gracious hosts to WHO.
Twenty-five years ago today on this very spot, we greeted then-President Corazon Aquino.
She fought corruption and restored democracy and freedom to the country.
Her humility and compassion for ALL her people was evident in EVERYTHING she did.
This tradition of People Power has been carried on by her son — whom we honour today for his leadership in public health.
As Filipinos say — Ang puno ng mangga, ay hindi nagbubunga, ng bayabas —the mango tree does not bear guava fruit.
President Aquino has courageously pursued health policies that will literally save millions of lives.
He has been active on many fronts.
He supported sin tax reform to generate revenue for universal health care and improve health facilities — a move that will benefit millions of Filipinos, especially the most vulnerable.
His unwavering position on reproductive health will mean fewer tragedies at childbirth. Children will be healthier, and families will have the power to make their own family planning decisions.
These are tremendous accomplishments in the political landscape of the Philippines.
In a moment, we will watch a video on President Aquino's achievements in health for which we honour him today.
President Aquino is not a medical doctor. Nor is he a public health specialist.
But what he has achieved is beyond what any doctor or public health expert could have done.
He has shown perseverance in pursuing better health for Filipinos— sometimes against formidable resistance.
Mr President, you are an inspiration to leaders in the Region… because you are a humble servant to the needs of your people.
The World Health Organization recognizes your outstanding leadership on this World Health Day.
Thank you, Mr. President.
And thank you all for attending.