Keynote address by Dr Shin Young-soo, Regional Director for the Western Pacific, to the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific

10 October 2016 — Regional Office, Manila

Mr Chairperson;
Honourable ministers;
Representatives from Member States and partner agencies;
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

Good morning and welcome to the sixty-seventh session of the World Health Organization Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.

This will be a special session.

In addition to the important issues on the agenda, this Regional Committee will be the last for our esteemed Director-General Dr Margaret Chan.

She will continue to lead WHO until June next year. But I wanted to take this opportunity to express our pride in the many accomplishments of this proud daughter of the Western Pacific.

A lot of people don't know that Dr Chan originally had no intention of studying medicine. She started out as a teacher — and now she has become the face of global public health.

Many people first heard about Dr Chan as the Director of Health in Hong Kong during the bird flu outbreak in 1997. Her decisive handling of the crisis earned her international respect — but did not make any friends in the Hong Kong chicken and duck community!

Under Dr Chan’s leadership, WHO has launched extensive self-motivated reforms. She has made the Organization more effective and efficient, and much more responsive to Member States.

Her combination of charm and straight-talk on sticky issues has made her a star in the diplomatic community and among global partners. Her star power has raised the profile of WHO as the United Nations’ largest and most transparent agency.

With 194 Member States, six elected regional directors and a massive headquarters, WHO is among the most complex and difficult organizations to manage.

To break down management silos, Dr Chan has taken cooperation to new heights. She created mechanisms to make decision-making more inclusive and collaborative.

You can see this new approach in the Global Policy Group she created.

The group has become a regular forum for regional directors and the D-G to brainstorm on the most serious issues facing WHO. Many Member States favour making this group permanent.

Margaret and I became friends long before assuming our current posts. Nevertheless, I think I speak for all the regional directors and ministers when I say she will be sorely missed.

Every year, I like to take this opportunity to highlight our shared achievements over the past 12 months, as well as the challenges we face going forward in the Region.

All of you have a copy of my detailed report covering July 2015 to June 2016 – The Report of the Regional Director: The Work of WHO in the Western Pacific Region.

The Regional Office, the Division of Pacific Technical Support and WHO country offices around the Region have worked as one to serve Member States over the past year.

It is often hard to measure progress year-to-year. Outbreaks, emergencies and other public health challenges generally do not follow a calendar.

However, we do stick to strategies and schedules as much as possible in our work, especially preparedness and prevention efforts. This proactive approach is precisely why we have made significant progress over time against the Region's most serious threats to health.

As a result, health outcomes have continued to improve in Member States, with noteworthy progress against communicable and noncommunicable diseases, or NCDs.

Morbidity and mortality from communicable disease continue to decline. Meanwhile, we are getting better at addressing key risk factors for NCDs — which are still responsible for nearly 80% of deaths in the Region.

Health systems are getting stronger, as more and more Member States take important steps towards universal health coverage. Member States are also better prepared to face threats posed by disasters, emergencies and emerging infectious diseases.

Since day one of my first term, I have made results at the country level a top priority. Results are the yardstick by which we all must measure effectiveness.

For this reason, we make great efforts to ensure that our country cooperation strategies reflect Member State priorities and needs.

Renewed county cooperation strategies were launched this past year for Cambodia, China and Papua New Guinea. Others are being prepared for launch in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia and the Philippines, as well as Pacific countries and areas.

Across the Region, we have strengthened strategic partnerships and relations with donors. I am proud of the fact that we have no overdue donor reports — and we are the only Region that can say that!

The Region has maintained its polio-free status once again. By now, you may be tired hearing this. But I never tire of reporting it to you!

The Region also continues to set the pace globally in combating hepatitis.

As a Region, we have reached the target of less than 1% chronic hepatitis B infection in 5-year-old children. We are a full year and a half ahead of the 2017 deadline.

Countries are now moving beyond immunization. We are strengthening support to address the needs of people living with the disease and to attain medications to cure viral hepatitis wherever possible.

Since March, Australia has treated more than 26 000 people with new drugs to cure hepatitis C.

In Mongolia, more than 6000 people have been treated with new hepatitis C drugs since November. Generic curative hepatitis C medicines now cost less than 500 US dollars per treatment course in Mongolia and have proven nearly 100% effective.

The demand for these new treatments is high. But these medicines remain unavailable or too expensive in much of the Region. We must solve this problem.

The past year was a milestone for tuberculosis control – with innovative approaches and new diagnostics and drugs. A new treatment course for drug-resistant tuberculosis is much shorter, which we hope will improve adherence to the regimen to fight multi-drug resistance.

Our fight against malaria has continued according to plan. Nine out of 10 malaria-endemic countries have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target for malaria.

The Regional Action Framework for Malaria in the Western Pacific 2016–2020 is on the agenda for tomorrow. The framework will guide efforts towards elimination of this disease that has caused death and disability for hundreds of years.

Also on the agenda for tomorrow is the draft Western Pacific Regional Action Plan for Dengue Prevention and Control (2016).

Despite the best efforts of Member States, WHO and our partners, we have had limited success fighting dengue. We have not met the targets we set in 2008 when the Regional Committee endorsed the last dengue strategic plan.

While case fatality rates have been cut in half between 2008 and 2015, the number of dengue cases has more than doubled. The new draft action plan, developed after extensive consultations with Member States and experts, provides fresh guidance on actions to slow down the expansion of dengue — so that we can eventually control it.

I look forward to a lively discussion on dengue.

The action plan will help us combat not only dengue, but also other arboviral diseases transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, including Chikungunya and Zika.

Though Zika has been more prevalent in the Americas, you will recall that the first outbreak reported was in the Federated States of Micronesia in 2007.

When Zika recently re-emerged in the Region, WHO immediately stepped up surveillance and response activities. In a recent videoconference, WHO and health ministers from 10 Members States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations committed to specific actions to prevent and control Zika.

Later this afternoon, our technical staff will present a special briefing on Zika.

In general, the Western Pacific Region remains a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases, disasters and other public health emergencies. We are continuing to invest in preparedness, especially in between outbreaks and emergencies. In fact, our Region is leading global efforts in preparedness and response.

I am pleased to see that 20 out of 27 States Parties reported achieving core capacities under the International Health Regulations, known as IHR 2005.

Over the past year, we conducted extensive consultations with Member States to update the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases. Updates are based on a decade of implementation experience.

The new strategy will make the Western Pacific Region more able to deal with whatever outbreak, disaster or health emergency the future brings.

The Regional Committee will consider the new Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases and Public Health Emergencies — also known as APSED III, for endorsement this week.

On the global level, the largest-ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa led to a reform of WHO emergency procedures. The new WHO Health Emergencies Programme will make the Organization better able to respond to emergencies and outbreaks around the world.

The Western Pacific Region is committed to alignment with this new global structure.

In many ways, we have focused on bridging the gap between knowledge and action. Look no further than our programme on Early Essential Newborn Care to see knowledge turned into life-saving action.

Across the Region, we have improved clinical practices for newborn babies in more than 2200 facilities. So far, more than 27 000 health workers have been coached in newborn care. And we are just getting started.

In April, the Regional Office convened a first-ever meeting of non-governmental experts and advocates on diabetes. The next day the diplomatic community and stakeholders joined us here for the World Health Day campaign on diabetes.

Over the past year, more attention has also been focused on environmental health risks — such as unsafe water and sanitation, air pollution and climate change.

Tomorrow, the Regional Committee will consider for endorsement the draft Western Pacific Regional Framework for Action on Health and Environment on a Changing Planet.

Many health challenges are more complicated to address in the Pacific. Small populations spread out across the world's largest ocean require WHO to tightly tailor support to improve health and well-being.

The proportion of premature deaths in the Pacific due to NCDs remains among the highest in the world, while various communicable diseases still pose a significant burden.

Climate change is also a clear and present threat to low-lying Pacific islands.

As part of a pilot programme, we recently started a five-year project to help build climate-resilient health systems in the Pacific. The project aims to strengthen governance and policies, early warning systems and service delivery.

With Pacific islands especially vulnerable to public health emergencies, WHO has worked to build core capacities for IHR (2005) and implement APSED.

Going forward, the new Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGS, set 17 goals with 169 targets to be achieved by 2030. As you know, SDG 3 specifically calls for good health and well-being for all at all ages.

WHO is eager to support Member States in prioritizing actions to achieve the SDGs. To that end, the Regional Committee will consider for endorsement this week the Regional Action Agenda on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the Western Pacific.

Like all of our regional strategies and plans, the SDG action agenda was developed in close consultation with Member States.

As I look back on our accomplishments – and ahead at the possibilities – I realize that the backbone of our success is the tremendous relationship we enjoy with Member States.

Cooperation and collaboration are more than words in the Western Pacific, and keeping countries at the centre is more than a motto.

These principles guide everything we do — and will do even better in the future!

We will hold a special side event on cooperation and coordination between the Regional Office and country offices on how to best serve Member States.

I am committed to ensuring that WHO functions seamlessly as one entity in supporting Member States in the Region.

These past eight years as your Regional Director have been the most rewarding of my career. Now I am committed to making my final two years the most productive.

Working together, we have made great progress on many public health issues in recent years. But like you, my focus is always on the challenges of tomorrow.

This is our first session since the launch of the SDGs — and the start of what will be a new era for global development. Health is finally where it belongs — at the centre of global development plans.

Economic development has been rapid in the Western Pacific. Hard-working people and their leaders have created greater prosperity. Now we must match that drive in creating better health.

Indeed, the nearly 1.9 billion people who call this great Region home are counting on us to make their lives richer — in terms of health and well-being.

Thank you.

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