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Health improvements still eluding people who need them most: WHO

Fifty-eighth Session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, 10-14 September 2007, Jeju, Republic of Korea

Jeju, Republic of Korea, 11 September 2007—Although countries in the Western Pacific Region have made progress in combating poverty, hunger, disease, discrimination against women and other Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the improvements have not reached people who need them most.

This was the assessment today of Dr Shigeru Omi, World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific, who said progress has been uneven across public health programmes, across countries and within countries.

"Effective technical interventions exist to address the health-related Millennium Development Goals, but the key challenge is to ensure that those interventions reach the people who need them most," Dr Omi said in a briefing paper to the annual meeting in Jeju of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.

Dr Omi stressed that significant improvements are unlikely without major improvements in the accessibility, quality and efficiency of health systems. Health-related Millennium Development Goals will also require multisectoral investments and action in areas such as poverty reduction, education and gender equality, he said.

In September 2000, world health leaders endorsed the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which led to a set of time-bound and measurable goals and targets known as the Millennium Development Goals, three of which refers explicitly to health, while three others are health-related.

Dr Omi briefed the Regional Committee on how countries were fairing towards achieving MDGs health-related goals and targets:

  • Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger

A number of countries in the Region have reached the annual rate of reduction necessary to achieve the target of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger between 1990 and 2015. Nevertheless, low-income countries have been progressing more slowly.

  • Reducing child mortality

Progress towards the targets for infant and under-5 mortality reduction in the Region is mixed, with under-5 mortality rates ranging from less than 4 per 1000 live births in some countries to over 100 per 1000 live births in others.

  • Improving maternal health

Some of the seven priority countries where maternal mortality ratio is unacceptably high—Cambodia, China, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Viet Nam—are not on track to meet the target.

  • Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

HIV: For heavily affected countries in the Western Pacific Region, such as Cambodia, large-scale prevention programmes have succeeded in containing the spread of HIV and averting new infections. However, the epidemic seems to be growing significantly in Papua New Guinea, and at lower levels in some other countries in the Region.

Tuberculosis: The Western Pacific Region achieved the 2005 global targets for TB control, making it the only WHO Region to have done so. With this achievement, the Region is now on track to reduce the TB burden by half ahead of the MDGs deadline. Optimizing the quality and access to TB services, and scaling up activities to address drug-resistant TB and TB-HIV co-infection will be crucial to meet these goals.

Malaria: In many countries in the Region, progress towards the MDGs target of reducing or halting the spread of malaria has been achieved through various interventions, including the distribution of insecticide-treated bednets, improving access to more effective antimalarial medications, better training for health workers and indoor residual spraying. Meanwhile, population movements and rising rates of multidrug-resistant strains pose formidable challenges for malaria control.

  • Ensuring environmental sustainability

Solid fuels: While populations in more developed countries such as Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and Singapore are using cleaner fuels, the shift from solid fuels to cleaner versions in some developing countries has been slow.

Water and sanitation: Despite progress towards improving water supplies and sanitation over the past decade, nearly 20% of people in the Region lack access to safe water and more than 50% lack access to sanitation.

  • Developing a global partnership for development

Essential medicines: Progress has been made in the past decade largely due to the implementation of the essential medicines concept and collaborative efforts between governments, international agencies and nongovernmental organizations in improving access to good quality essential medicines.

For more information or request to interview WHO specialists, please call Ms Marilu Lingad at (63) 918 918 1094; email: or Mr Peter Cordingley at (+63) 917 844 3688; email: .

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