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

9 October 2017 — Brisbane, Australia

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

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

We all thank the Government of Australia for graciously hosting us here in beautiful Brisbane. The opening ceremony this morning was a work of art.

We have full week ahead of us to work on important decisions regarding some of the Region’s most pressing health issues — the issues that you, our Member States, have told us are priorities.

You will also have the opportunity later this week to meet Dr Tedros , the new Director-General of WHO, and hear his vision for the Organization. I encourage you to share your views with him directly.

Usually, I take this time every year to highlight our work over the past year. But this year I want to focus more on the bigger picture.

This is a critical time for WHO and for global health.

Health is now at the centre of the development agenda. Good health and well-being is the theme of Sustainable Development Goal 3 – but it is also key to achieving several of the other goals. Health has finally been recognized as a driver of development and human progress.

This is good news – but it makes our mission in public health much broader.

We must address the determinants of health — many of which have roots that stretch far outside the health sector. To address them, we must work across all sectors and settings. We must take collaboration and cooperation to new heights — with partnerships that help Member States deliver on the promise of universal health coverage, the platform for achieving all the health-related SDG targets.

Together, we must build efficient and effective health systems with sustainable capacity to deliver high-quality services to everyone. It is unacceptable that four out of 10 people in the world cannot get health care without financial hardship. Indeed, the SDG motto — development that leaves no one behind — is more than a new way of thinking. For us in the Western Pacific Region, it is a new way of working.

I want to highlight three areas of focus in this new way of working:

First: our efforts to build mechanisms that work across sectors and societies to address the determinants of health;

Second: our strengthened focus on partnerships that produce measurable results at the country level;

And finally, concrete steps we are taking to ensure that Member States work together to safeguard global health security.

On the first point — cross-cutting work to address the determinants of health — you need look no further than the 9th Global Conference on Health Promotion in November in Shanghai.

WHO and the Chinese Government hosted the conference attended by more than 1000 decision-makers. They included some 40 ministers of health – including many of you – and more than 100 mayors from all over the world, as well as the heads of several United Nations agencies.

They made firm commitments to bolster multisectoral cooperation — with the adoption of the Shanghai Declaration on Health Promotion and the Consensus on Healthy Cities.

Our efforts must target cities. More than half of the people in the world live in urban areas. By 2050, more than two thirds will live in cities.

Such growth brings unending health challenges, many of which originate outside of the health sector. This is why we launched the Regional Framework for Urban Health and Healthy and Resilient Cities, and a toolkit on Healthy Cities. Now city leaders have a guide to policies and planning to promote healthier lifestyles.

Just as Healthy Islands does in the Pacific, Healthy Cities seeks to combat the cause of some 80% of deaths in the Region, noncommunicable disease. These diseases are overwhelmingly tied to lifestyle issues, such as unhealthy diet, tobacco use or a lack of physical activity. These risk factors are usually the result of unhealthy environments.

We are working closely with ministries of health and sectors beyond health – like city mayors – using whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches to promote health and address risk factors that drive the NCD epidemic.

At the same time, WHO is building partnerships with the leaders that influence policy-making at the highest levels.

In November last year, we supported the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea to convene the Second Annual Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentarian Forum on Global Health. Lawmakers from 17 countries in the WHO Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions promoted the role of government and whole-of-government approaches in achieving health in the SDGs.

The most recent meeting of the Parliamentarian Forum in August was even bigger –55 parliamentarians from 22 countries attended. The growing influence of this Forum fills me with hope about the impact it will have in the future.

Last October, health and environment ministers from 14 countries across Asia and the Pacific came together in Manila. They pledged to redouble efforts to jointly tackle the pressing issues of climate change, air pollution, safe water, sanitation and hazardous chemicals.

In line with the SDGs, we work to bolster collaborative actions that bring all the players to the table to address health issues — even though many fall outside of the health sector.

This year, we devoted an agenda item to the role of health promotion in the SDGs. It spotlights the role of health literacy in assessing the impact of education, environment, transport, energy, labour and other sectors on the health of people.

Indeed, partnership and collaboration will be crucial to our success — even more so as many Member States face drops in global funding for disease programmes. Health services must become more efficient, interconnected and sustainable to reach everyone who needs them.

This brings me to my second theme: new ways of working at the country level, to produce measurable results.

Two items on this year’s agenda — measles and rubella elimination efforts, and the triple elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis — show how programmes can be creatively leveraged to increase coverage and life-saving ability.

By strengthening health systems, we are working with Member States to close immunization gaps on all fronts. It is unacceptable that in 2017 we are still losing an estimated 400 000 lives each year in the Region to diseases that vaccines can prevent. These initiatives are products of this new way of working in the Western Pacific Region. They will help Member States reach more people more efficiently with more basic health services — while increasing quality and lowering costs.

Keep in mind that nearly 70 years before the SDGs called on countries to leave no one behind, the WHO Constitution established the highest attainable standard of health as – and I quote – “one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”.

I may NOT be a native English speaker, but I know that means NO ONE left behind.

When WHO was founded in 1948, communicable diseases were our chief concern. We continue to make strong progress in our fight against these deadly diseases.

In the past year, Tonga and the Marshall Islands eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem, and Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic did the same with trachoma.

We finally have a cure for hepatitis C, and we are working with countries to help make it available to everyone in need at an affordable price.

The WHO-endorsed rapid diagnostic tuberculosis test — which cuts waiting time for results to just a few hours — is now available in all high-burden countries. We must make sure it is accessible to all who need it.

Multidrug resistant TB – along with the overall global increase in antimicrobial resistant pathogens – is one of the most frightening health threats in the world.

This brings me to my third and final area of focus in this new way of working at WHO — steps we are taking to ensure that Member States work together to safeguard global health security.

WHO recently established the global Health Emergencies Programme. It has a clear mission — to protect health and save lives during outbreaks and emergencies.

The Western Pacific is home to seven of the 10 most disaster-prone countries in the world. We are accustomed to emergencies and health security threats.

Through this new programme, we continue to support countries to build their capacity to respond to outbreaks and emergencies. At the same time, our Region’s considerable experience and success in improving health security is helping make the world safer. This Regional Committee last year endorsed APSED III — the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases and Public Health Emergencies. APSED III builds on a long history of hard work in our Region.

Health emergencies can test even the most advanced health systems and best preparedness and response plans. That is why APSED III not only incorporates lessons from actual events, but also anticipates future needs.

The mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation in APSED III have contributed to the development of a global monitoring and evaluation framework. These mechanisms include annual reporting, after-action review, simulation exercises and Joint External Evaluations.

The Joint External Evaluations of JEEs use independent experts to gauge Member State core capacities and preparedness. The JEE process will help Member States better handle the health challenges of tomorrow — whatever they may be.

To date, there have been 56 JEEs globally. I applaud the five countries in the Region that have completed JEEs in the past year — Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam.

I also salute the eight countries in the Region with JEEs planned or in the process – Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Singapore.

These evaluations and other innovative mechanisms are paramount to sustain momentum in health security – for all countries. They also are shining examples of our new way of working and continually improving.

Over the past nine years, with your guidance and support, it has been my privilege to oversee the reinvention of WHO in the Western Pacific Region.

Our effort has been guided by a crystal-clear vision of Keeping Countries at the Centre. We plan our work based on what you, our Member States, tell us are your national needs and priorities.

Since 2009 when we launched these reforms, we have focused on delivering results at the country level.

While we have achieved much together, our attention must stay focused on what is around the corner – the next outbreak, the next emergency, the next funding crisis, the next big threat to health.

We can, however, take comfort in the fact that together we have reinforced the foundation for future success. This Regional Committee, the Regional Office and Member States have taken the lead in regional and global reforms — reforms that have helped make the Organization more streamlined, efficient and responsive to Member States.

We have come a long way, but we still have so much more work to do. It has been an honour to serve as your Regional Director throughout this journey.

Over the final year and a half of my term, my staff and I will continue to work tirelessly to leave no one behind in improving the health and well-being of the nearly 1.9 billion people who make their home in the Western Pacific Region.

Thank you.