Putrajaya, Malaysia, 11 October 2010—The leader of the World Health Organization's Western Pacific Region said today that WHO is now better prepared than ever to serve its Member States and respond to emerging health challenges.
Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, gave this assessment as he addressed the annual meeting of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region. Some 150 representatives, including several health ministers, are meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia, to review WHO's work in the Western Pacific.
Dr Shin identified four areas where he said there had been "significant progress" over the past year:
- accelerating progress towards achieving the health-related targets in the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include eradicating extreme poverty, reducing maternal and child mortality rates and fighting diseases;
- strengthening capacity in the Region to respond to public health emergencies;
- revitalizing efforts to fight noncommunicable diseases; and
- strengthening health systems.
On the MDGs, Dr Shin said the Western Pacific Region was the best performing of all the WHO Regions. "We are on track to meet, or even exceed, the heath-related goals," he said. But there was one exception – maternal mortality.
"I find it shameful that women are still dying in childbirth," he told the meeting. "As we all know, most of these deaths are preventable." Dr Shin said he would be focusing on this area of public health in the Region.
He praised steps taken by Cambodia in maternal death surveillance—an important element in attacking the problem—as well as community-level action in the Lao People's Democratic Republic in providing basic care and equipment during delivery. He also praised Papua New Guinea for placing a high emphasis on maternal mortality in its new 10-year National Health Plan.
Dr Shin described the response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic as "not always easy". "Calibrating the response, dealing with uncertainty, communicating effectively, managing complex logistics – all of these posed challenges," he said. "But, despite this, we, as a region, came through this together. Information was shared between Member States in an open and timely manner. Vaccine was donated and deployed to the 16 countries in the Region that requested it and travel and trade disruptions were kept to a minimum."
Dr Shin also reported that WHO has renewed its focus on strengthening health systems, with the intention of ensuring well-maintained facilities, sufficiently trained personnel, and access to essential safe medicines.
The emphasis of WHO programmes in the Region is on capacity-building at the district level and in communities, and promoting simple, practical interventions that can make a substantial difference in people's lives, he told the meeting.
Looking forward, Dr Shin said he would be making it his "personal mission" to eliminate leprosy from the Western Pacific Region. "Although most countries in the Region have eliminated leprosy, a few Pacific island countries are still reporting new cases," he said. At the same time, he wanted to see lymphatic filariasis and yaws banished from the Pacific region, where they continued to cause suffering in some areas. "We have unfinished business with these three diseases," he said.
Dr Shin said one of his aims was for WHO to reach out beyond the health sector to best serve the nearly 1.9 billion people who live in the Western Pacific Region.
"So many issues—from antimicrobial resistance and emergency preparedness to noncommunicable diseases and the potential impact of climate change – cannot be tackled by the health sector alone," he said.