HONG KONG (CHINA), 21 September 2009—The new leader of the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Region today called on the organization to change the way it works or risk becoming irrelevant.
"If we aren’t helping improve the health of underserved people, then perhaps we've lost our way," Dr Shin Young-soo told a meeting here of WHO's Regional Committee for the Western Pacific. "The way in which we organize ourselves and our work must continue to evolve if we are to meet the challenges we face."
Dr Shin, who took up office as Regional Director in February this year, said that while WHO should not abandon its traditional role as the world's leading health agency, it needed to be more versatile in its approach. "The public health arena is more crowded than ever. We must find innovative ways to maintain our leadership and to strengthen partnerships in a rapidly changing environment."
Dr Shin, 65, expressed concern that if WHO failed to tailor its support to those in greatest need, they would be left increasingly vulnerable to health risks such as the spreading influenza pandemic, the rise in noncommunicable diseases and the impact on health of climate change, all unfolding against the backdrop of a global economic crisis that is squeezing resources.
A South Korean, Dr Shin is the first non-WHO employee to be elected head of the Western Pacific Region. Addressing health ministers and senior officials of the 37 countries and areas in the Region, he said his "outsider" status had advantages. "I've come on board with a fresh perspective and, hopefully, a more objective view of how our organizational structure and way of working can be improved," he said. “We will not hesitate to make changes where they are needed.”
The Regional Committee meeting runs from 21 to 25 September.