Fast-track public health

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Fast-track public health

Friday, 01 March 2019 | Poonam Khetrapal Singh

Member states of the South-East Asia Region have made rapid progress in ensuring good health and well-being of their people. The journey continues

The health and well-being of almost two billion people across the World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region is stronger than ever. The wild polio virus has been vanquished. Maternal and neonatal tetanus is no longer a public health problem. Neglected tropical diseases are on the backfoot, if not routed altogether, while dramatic reductions in maternal and child mortality rate have given a fillip to global progress. Some countries have even rid themselves of malaria and measles — achievements that were once unthinkable. The war against tobacco and other harmful substances continues.

As one of the world’s most populous and diverse regions, we must be immensely proud of the progress made, the outcomes achieved and the lives saved and improved over the past five years. Indeed, through their tenacity and resolve, each of the region’s member states has demonstrated that good health and well-being must be at the very core of development and national progress — that the human right to health matters as a good in itself and is a powerful means to shore-up economic development and human capital it relies on.

That is not to say there are no challenges and that the region doesn’t face a range of serious threats to public health, both natural and man-made. The fact is, we do. From emerging zoonoses to anti-microbial resistance and the health impacts of climate change — there is no shortage of hazards we must navigate effectively in the coming years.

But it is to say that when we champion “health for all”, we really do mean it. This is especially crucial as we continue to pursue our own flagship priorities — the triple billion targets laid out in WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work (GPW), and the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda. Moving forward, our drive towards each of these imperatives is best summarised by a simple though powerful maxim: “Sustain. Accelerate. Innovate.”

To sustain the region’s many achievements, WHO will continue to support member states to ensure that technical and operational frameworks are in place to protect and build on the region’s gains, from being certified polio-free to halting and reversing HIV and malaria among other successes. As part of this — and in line with the region’s flagship priorities — WHO will continue to assist member states to strengthen and extend the reach of health services, including for reproductive, maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health. Special focus will be placed on fortifying primary healthcare as part of our pursuit of achieving universal health coverage.

To accelerate progress, WHO will work with member states to harness a full range of opportunities now available to advance health and well-being. Each of the GPW’s targets, for example, is aligned with what WHO South-East Asia and its member states have been striving to achieve. So, too, are the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 3. To ensure that these opportunities are taken advantage of and that accelerated progress is sustainable, WHO is committed to supporting member states develop effective financing mechanisms as they transition away from external funding in a range of health-related areas.

And to promote the drive to innovate, WHO will support member states in carrying out cutting-edge research, both on the efficacy of policy and on the development of new tools that can hasten progress. Both outcomes are critically important. To advance progress towards ending tuberculosis by 2030, for example, both development and application of diagnostics, that can rapidly test and diagnose large populations, are crucial. Likewise, to finish off key neglected tropical diseases, devising and implementing policies that address the needs of specific communities in specific areas are of vital importance.

Result-based focus, combined with member states’ commitment to drive real change in the lives of the most vulnerable, will serve the region well. Though the South-East Asia Region faces a range of challenges, and is pursuing a series of ambitious targets, through strong, responsive and inclusive leadership, we can achieve each of our objectives and more.

(The writer is Regional Director, WHO South East Asia)

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