"WHO‘s 63rd Regional Committee Meeting in Hanoi was a credit to the World Health Organization. The diversity of countries represented in terms of population size, geography and wealth was enormous. Every country in the region was represented by their delegations. The non-governmental organization (NGO) sector was represented by 22 NGOs, including IAPO.
The opening ceremony was held at Hanoi’s Grand Opera House with a welcoming address and key note address from the Director General of WHO, Dr Margaret Chan, via video link. A key theme of the meeting was the need for universal health coverage in order to ensure that two powerful goals in public health are achieved, namely “greater fairness in access to care and greater efficiency in the delivery of services”.
Universal coverage refers to not only forms of medical intervention but also protecting health and preventing disease. The overall aim is to bring down the health risks for the whole population and ensure economies of scale are achieved in how funding is spent.
In support of universal coverage, Dr Chan made reference to the Lancet papers that present evidence of the positive impact of universal coverage on health outcomes. Dr Chan reminded the regional delegates that commitment to universal coverage means meeting people’s expectations of access to high quality services and medicines.
Dr Chan's address summarised the positive initiatives taking place in the region on communicable disease. She praised the Western Pacific for being close to becoming the second WHO region (after the Americas) that is measles free. The drop in measles is “breath-taking” with a 99% decline and the measles initiative is being used to control rubella. She also thanked Australia for hosting a major conference at the end of October on malaria. The meeting considered an action plan on neglected tropical diseases affecting the poorest of the poor and explored control, elimination and challenges; such as artemisinin resistance.
Millenium Development Goals and sustainable development
Dr Chan highlighted two big tasks facing WHO is reform and placing health on the post-2015 development agenda. The Millennium Development Goals show that health deserves a high place on the development agenda and a health determinants approach provides an indicator of the impact on citizens of government policies across all sectors.
Rio+20 summit affirmed universal health coverage as enhancing health, social cohesion and sustainable human and economic development. Two major challenges contributing to the rise in non-communicable disease are the impact of climate change and the global economic downturn. According to Dr Chan, the response to these challenges is to make universal health coverage part of the post 2015 development agenda.
It is the rise of non-communicable diseases that Dr Chan emphasised as a major challenge requiring a multi-sectoral approach to prevent these diseases. The WHO framework proposed measures with implications for trade and investment, making collaboration between health and the trade sectors critical. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, for example, is a preventive measure aimed at the prevention of non-communicable diseases. Australia was commended for its win against the tobacco industry in its decision to introduce plain packaging and becoming a model for the rest of the world. The Western Pacific region is the first region to articulate a measurable target to reduce tobacco use, with the aim of reducing tobacco use by 10% in the region by 2014 .
The Australian delegation held two break out meetings on tobacco and malaria control. Both sessions were well attended and practical as they discussed implementation of measures to reduce smoking related harm and reduce the incidence of malaria further in the region. WHO noted that Australia's efforts on tobacco control provide a model for the region and the world to follow in terms of addressing one major risk factor for non-communicable disease.
I would like to thank IAPO and my Australian organization, the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF), for the opportunity to attend and represent patients/consumers. It was a privilege to attend the Regional Committee as a representative of IAPO."