Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly, Pacific address

Speech at the Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly
Honourable Minister Mr Charles Sigoto
Solomon Islands
19-24 May 2014

Mr President,
Director-General of the World Health Organization: Dr Margaret Chan
Honourable ministers,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to address the Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly today, on behalf of the Pacific island nations, namely: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and my own country, Solomon Islands.

We extend our warm greetings to you all from the Pacific.

Mr President, allow me to congratulate you on your new appointment. We are confident that under your guidance, this Assembly will complete a full agenda, with constructive deliberations and conclusions.

The Pacific is a group of small islands and atolls, dotted around the largest ocean on our planet; with all this water it is not surprizing we are called the blue continent.

Each of our island countries has unique customs, traditions and priorities, but we share many characteristics – relatively small populations, dispersed across vast distances - that mean we face many common challenges.

Pacific Health ministers meet every two years to discuss these common challenges and agree on common approaches. Working together we can have a greater impact than any of us would have alone.

At the Tenth Pacific Health Ministers Meeting, generously hosted by Samoa in July 2013, we reaffirmed our commitment to the Healthy Islands vision, a framework for promoting healthier lifestyles in the Pacific

We focused on the NCD crisis in the Pacific. NCDs and their main risk factors continue at unacceptable levels - up to 75% of deaths in the Pacific are attributable to NCDs.

We are aware of the reasons for our high levels of NCDs ranging from an increased consumption of processed foods to high rates of alcohol and tobacco use. And we have taken decisive action to turn the tide on NCDs by adopting the goal of a Tobacco Free Pacific by 2025.

At the Pacific Heath Ministers Meeting we also agreed to scale up the Package of Essential NCD interventions – or PEN - across our island countries. PEN is not only a crucial step in the fight against NCDs, but it is also an important entry point to strengthen the health system. Improving our service delivery through PEN is one vital step in ensuring access to appropriate services for our people at affordable costs, main components of universal health coverage.

In our part of the world, we cannot forget the menace of communicable diseases. Many of our countries are currently experiencing dengue outbreaks, and over the past year we have seen outbreaks of dengue, Zika and chikungunya – all climate sensitive diseases.

In my own country, we have recently completed a climate change and health vulnerability assessment and adaptations project. We have pinpointed the highest health risks from climate change in our country – namely increased vector-borne and respiratory diseases – and identified adaptation strategies. Thanks to WHO, many countries in the Pacific now have national climate change and health action plans, to be prepared to face the health consequences of climate change.

The world’s attention will turn to small islands countries in September 2014 during the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. This conference will be held in Samoa and will highlight issues common to all small island states – across the globe. Among the many topics to be considered, the NCDs crisis is of major importance to Pacific islands countries, for reasons already mentioned. The Honourable Minister of Health, Samoa is hosting a side event at this World Health Assembly to discuss the opportunity to address health and NCDs at the Conference - I hope many of you will join us for this session on Tuesday.

Looking forward, our Pacific island countries are preparing for what comes after the MDGs. There is unfinished business there we cannot ignore. And there are emerging issues that demand our attention in the post-MDG era, such as our increasing ageing populations and road traffic accidents.

Mr President, thank you for this opportunity to paint a picture of the challenges we face on the blue continent. As you have heard, we are not sitting idly by but are grabbing each and every chance to ensure our islands are indeed healthy. And with the continued support of WHO we are confident we will make solid progress.

I will close by noting with great satisfaction the re-election of our Regional Director, Dr Shin. On behalf of my Pacific brothers and sisters, I want to extend our heartfelt congratulations. Closer to my own home, I would also like to express my sincere gratitude for all the support WHO has provided to the Solomon Islands during the emergency response our recent floods.

Thank you for your attention.