Health ministers and senior officials from countries and areas within Asia and the Pacific will be gathering virtually to agree on actions on health issues of the region and report on priorities for the World Health Organization in the Western Pacific.
The 71st session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific is being held online from Oct. 6 to Oct. 9.
At the opening ceremony yesterday, WHO briefed countries about the COVID-19 situation in the region and what they are doing in response. Delegates were able to share updates on the current situations and their needs.
“Last year, we gathered in Manila and talked about how, together, we would work toward addressing the challenges facing our region in the future,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific. “In a blink of an eye, none of us could have known what was about to come, how quickly it was for the ‘future’ to arrive.”
Kasai said that COVID-19 is currently the most challenging public health event that the world has not seen in 100 years. “It is testing not only the capacity of our health systems but also the resilience of our societies and economies,” he said, adding that he’s most proud of the spirit of solidarity that has characterized interactions between the countries of the region over the past nine months. In these difficult times, countries have come together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration in recognition that “no country in our region is safe until every country is safe.”
“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,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a video message.
Ghebreyesus believes this is no accident., adding that many countries in the Western Pacific set an example for the rest of the world for investing in emergency preparedness and response for the long-term benefits.
“Through painful 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,” said Ghebreyesus.
Philippine health secretary Dr. Francisco T. Duque III was elected chairman of this year’s session. Dr. Ifereimi Waqainabete, minister of Health and Medical Services of Fiji, was elected vice chairman.
Later this week, health ministers and senior officials will deliberate and are expected to adopt resolutions to address.