The Seventy-Second (72nd) Session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Committee for Western Pacific held this year in Himeji, Japan has kicked off today with attendance and participation of the 37 member states including Solomon Islands as well as areas and Associate Members.
The Regional Committee meets every year to formulate policies, provide oversight for regional programmes, hear progress reports and consider, revise and endorse new initiatives. It adopts resolution and makes decisions that guide the work of WHO Regional Office and country offices for the coming year.
Top on the agenda for the current Committee Session includes COVID-19, school health, primary health care, tuberculosis and traditional and complementary medicines.
Attending the opening ceremony this morning via video conferencing, are Health Ministers from the member states including Hon. Dr Culwick Togamana Solomon Islands Health Minister who was accompanied by Health Permanent Secretary Mrs. McNeil, Deputy Secretaries, Corporate Service and Health Care, Dr Lazarus Neko and Dr Gregory Jilini as well as the National Director of Nursing, Mr. Michael Larui. Providing secretarial support to the team is the WHO Country Representative Dr Sevil Huseynova, and WHO Solomon Islands officials.
At the opening of the session, MHMS team including those from other 37 member states of the Western Pacific Region had the opportunity to listen to the address by Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom who acknowledged the declining cases in the Western Pacific Region with 2 out of 3 people in the region vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines.
He said that WHO is committed to work with members states in the region to reach 40 percent of the target population in every country and 70 by percent mid next year. “Half of the countries in this region have reached 40 percent and WHO will work with the remaining states to help them get there too”.
Dr Tedros, explained that while responding to COVID-19 continues, lessons learnt must be actioned. “ First the need for better global governance that’s inclusive, equitable and accountable, second, more and better financing for national and global preparedness and response to emergencies, third, better systems and tools across the one health spectrum and fourth, the need for a stringent empowered and sustainably financed WHO”.
The WHO Director General concludes by seeking commitment from member states in the Western Pacific Region to stay on course with proven public health and social measures that works, based on evidence in combination with equitable vaccination. Support for an idea of an international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response and to build a stronger WHO that is empowered and financed sustainably.
Dr Takeshi Kasai the WHO Regional Director for Western Pacific Region in his speech acknowledged and thanked health ministers from all members states for their leadership in this difficult time. Likewise, he also thanked health workers across the region for tremendous display of courage, hard work, commitment and dedication in serving the health needs of their people.
He shared inspirational stories of people getting vaccinated, one in particular of an elderly woman, over a hundred years old, who got vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccines to protect her loved ones around her. Dr Kasai also shared stories of how health workers within the region had to overcome challenges to get vaccines to the people including long boat journeys of Pacific Island countries health workers to ensure those in the remote and rural areas also have the chance of getting vaccinated.
The Regional Director concluded by thanking partners and groups that have supported the work of WHO in the region and member countries in the fight against COVID-19 and highlighted that connectivity amongst countries to work as one team, sharing of information and knowledge and experiences, is one of the most important role of WHO at this time of COVID-19 pandemic.
Solomon Islands, like many other Pacific Island countries with its current health systems, high proportion of population with underlying health conditions, geographical isolation, poor infrastructure including small and developing economy, the impact of COVID-19 would be devastating to the health and livelihood of the people. As such, more ambitious immunization targets have been set in order to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 let alone community transmission of the virus as much as possible.
The session will end on Friday 29th of October with Dr Culwick Togamana, expected to make interventions, participate in listening to reports and engage in considerations, revisions and endorsements of initiatives, side events and so forth. More on Solomon Islands’ engagements in this committee session will be published later this week.