Region’s leaders gather virtually to tackle COVID-19 and other health issues

Health ministers and senior officials from countries and areas across Asia and the Pacific are gathering virtually this week to agree actions on health issues of the region and chart priorities for the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacifi

 The seventy-first session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific is being held online from 6 to 9 October 2020. On the opening day, WHO briefed countries on the COVID-19 situation in the Region and our work to support responses. Delegates shared updates on the current situation and needs.

 In his opening remarks, Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said “Last year, we gathered in Manila and talked about how, together, we would work towards addressing the challenges facing our Region in the future. None of us could have imagined how quickly the future would arrive. COVID-19 is the most challenging public health event we have seen in 100 years – and it is testing not only the capacity of our health systems, but also the resilience of our societies and economies. But I’m proud of the spirit of solidarity that has characterized interactions between countries of our Region over the past 9 months. In these difficult times, countries have come together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration – borne out of a recognition that no country in our Region is safe until every country is safe.”

 WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a video message for the Region’s health ministers: “The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our health systems, societies, and economies. This new virus may have originated in the Western Pacific, but so far, your region has reported the fewest cases and deaths. This is no accident. Many countries in the Western Pacific Region are an example for the rest of the world of the long-term benefits of investing in emergency preparedness and response. Through painful past experience, many of your countries have developed a strong 'muscle memory' that has helped you to prevent infections and save lives. But all countries must remain vigilant. The virus is still circulating and most people remain susceptible.”

 Later this week, health ministers and senior officials will deliberate and are expected to adopt resolutions to address:

Inequitable access to immunization to stop vaccine preventable diseases

Limited access to safe and affordable surgery, despite its critical role in reducing deaths and disability

Health and social implications of ageing and the needs of current and future populations.

 Delegates will also note progress made in the Region in five additional areas:

Health security, including antimicrobial resistance

Noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes

Climate change, the environment and health

Reaching the unreached with services to prevent and treat dengue, malaria and other neglected tropical diseases

Driving WHO’s vision of its work, For the Future: Towards the Healthiest and Safest Region,adopted at last year’s Regional Committee.

Dr Francisco T. Duque III, Secretary of Health of the Philippines, was elected Chair of this year’s session. Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete, Minister of Health and Medical Services of Fiji, was elected Vice Chair.