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WHO South-East Asia to strengthen regional collaboration to innovate and expand public health gains

by Public Health Update

The Seventy-sixth Session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia concluded today with health ministers and senior delegates from Member countries reiterating their commitment to sustain and expand the gains made in advancing the health and well-being of more than 2 billion people in the Region.

Member countries deliberated on strengthening comprehensive actions for the prevention and control of cardiovascular disease, elimination of neglected tropical diseases, enhancing regional health security, and promoting data-driven policymaking for advancing universal health coverage based on a strong foundation of primary health care.

“The economic, commercial, political, social and environmental drivers of disease require action on multiple fronts – most beyond the influence of the formal health sector alone. These are political, and not just technical, challenges. If we are to lead the most important conversation in public health in this Region, we must be prepared to work with and influence those that have the power to bring about real change,” said Regional Director Dr Khetrapal Singh.

The Member countries reiterated their commitment to continue to prioritize time-bound, ambitious but realistic milestones to scale up control and management of cardiovascular diseases by accelerating the South-East Asia HEARTS (SEAHEARTS) initiative. The SEAHEARTS advocates for tobacco control, salt reduction, elimination of industrially produced trans-fatty acids for comprehensive cardiovascular disease risk factor reduction, along with scaling up protocol-based management of hypertension and diabetes at the primary health care level. Cardiovascular disease causes an estimated 3.9 million deaths in the Region every year.

The Member countries emphasized on prioritizing country-specific roadmaps with baseline and targets to accelerate the implementation of SEAHEARTS  and strengthen political commitment and health system capacity, while promoting accountability through timely and reliable data sharing.

Reiterating the criticality of strengthening health emergency preparedness and response capacities, countries agreed to further strengthen health system resilience and human resources capacity aligned to regional strategic roadmaps. This includes the development of evidence-and risk-informed national action plans on health security with whole-of-government and whole-of society engagement aligned with comprehensive primary health care.

Member countries agreed to continue to strengthen health emergency preparedness and response capacities guided by the two regional roadmaps: ‘Regional Strategic Roadmap on health security and health system resilience for emergencies 2023–2027’ and ‘South-East Asia Regional Roadmap for Diagnostic Preparedness, Integrated Laboratory Networking and Genomic Surveillance 2023–2027’. WHO will continue to provide technical assistance to Member countries for strengthening International Health Regulation core capacities and implement the National Action Plan for Health Security.

Improved integrated health information platforms at all levels can leverage emerging and innovative technologies, cross-sectoral partnerships, and data analytics to support the monitoring and delivery of quality health services to improve outcomes. Recognizing that a robust data architecture is critical for developing evidence-driven policy, delegates deliberated on creating shared integrated platforms to support the use of data for risk assessment, effective resource allocation, tracking progress, evaluating intervention outcomes, and making evidence-based decisions regarding policy and programme design. Member countries discussed making strategic investment to set up robust data architecture, strong data-sharing policies, and data governance mechanisms.

The key highlights of the four-day Regional Committee were nomination of Ms Saima Wazed as next Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia Region.

The Member countries signed the Delhi Declaration for Strengthening Primary Health Care as a key element towards achieving universal health coverage. The Regional Committee committed to prioritize investments to strengthen primary health care which will accelerate progress towards achieving health for all and help realizing health-related sustainable development goals, health security and equity promoting health systems. This includes the creation of multi-disciplinary people-centered primary health care teams, uninterrupted access to quality and affordable medicines; and efficient use of available resources, innovative technologies, and data to enhance access, improve health service delivery and monitor performance.

Five Member countries were felicitated for six public health achievements – Bangladesh for elimination of visceral leishmaniasis or kala-azar and lymphatic filariasis as public health problems, Maldives for interruption of leprosy transmission; and Bhutan, DPR Korea and Timor-Leste for elimination of rubella.The Regional Committee passed a resolution appreciating the leadership, vision and contributions of Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh to the health and well-being of the people of Region, and declared her as Regional Director Emeritus with effect from 1 February 2024.

WHOSEARO


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