Day 3 of the 64th Session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific

The day started like any other, but we soon realised that today would be a unique one. A big surprise occurred when the secretariat informed us that we would not be able to give a spoken intervention on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as we had initially intended. Five of the seven non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that had requested to present an intervention were denied the opportunity for time and scheduling reasons. Nonetheless, our statement on NCDs was still considered by the committee as it was handed out to each member in written form. The statement is available for viewing here: https://docs.google.com/a/ifmsa.org/file/d/0B3TpS3jsECx5cXRaNGtXSnk0d2M/edit?usp=drive_web&pli=1.

In the morning the committee discussed the important issue of Blindness Prevention and considered the draft action plan “Towards Universal Eye Health: A Regional Action Plan for the Western Pacific (2014-2019)”. The discussion covered many points, and the committee stressed the need for eye care to be addressed in a wider health context, and that it should consider the link between blindness and diabetic retinopathy and between cataracts and ageing. The Action Plan was adopted without any amendments by the committee.

The discussion on Hepatitis B control through vaccination was lively, and amendments were made to the draft resolution “Hepatitis B control through vaccination: setting the target”, prior to adoption. The Western Pacific region, as a whole, has met the 2012 milestone of a prevalence rate of less than 2% in five year old children. In addition, many countries have already met the ultimate goal of less than 1% prevalence rate. At this rate, the Western Pacific region could become the first to set and meet targets to control Hepatitis B in children. One interesting comment was that the link between hepatitis B and certain cancers demonstrates that the distinction between communicable and non-communicable diseases is not always clear.

The IFMSA delegation also attended the regional launch of the World Health Report 2013. With the theme “Research for Universal Health Coverage,” the report was discussed by a panel moderated by Dr Vivian Lim of the WHO WPRO Division of Health Sector Development. The event started with an opening address by Dr Shin Young Soo, the WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. The panel consisted of Professor John McCallum of Australia, Dr Ren Minghui of China, Dr Neil Sharma of Fiji, and Dr Madeleine Valera of the Philippines. Their discussion focused on translating research into policy, sharing experiences among policy-making bodies in different countries, emphasizing the transition from the MDGs to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and increasing funding for research. The event culminated in an open forum where delegates from member states shared their plans in achieving universal health care.

Since the start of the meeting on Monday there has been a strong undercurrent of concern about NCDs, so the afternoon discussion of NCDs was perhaps the most passionate of the whole week. The current action plan on NCDs (2008-2013) has fostered significant progress. Moving forward, the committee considered the new regional action plan (2014-2020) which was based on the global action plan (2013-2020), but with a Western Pacific perspective that takes into account the unique circumstances of the region. 

The regional plan emphasises the control of risk factors through a multi-sectorial approach and broader partnerships. It also emphasises a health systems approach, particularly universal access to services in primary health-care facilities and the implementation of the WHO package of essential NCD interventions (PEN). In the collaborative spirit of WHO, when there was some contention around whether to use the phrase “noting the relevance of health” or the similar “reaffirming the importance”, the committee chose to use both and combined the two phrases into one sentence. The committee subsequently adopted the “Western Pacific Regional Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (2014-2020)”.

After the exciting events of the day, we attended the cocktail reception at Ayala Museum where we ate, drank, and enjoyed the rich history of the Philippines. Afterwards, we continued our ‘cultural’ experience and visited a bar called ‘DRAFT the fort’ with Greco, the NMO president of AMSA-Philippines, and a few other IFMSA friends. We would like to thank IFMSA for the amazing opportunity to attend WPRO, and enjoy ourselves in Manila!

By Marcel Boulat (AMSA-Australia) and Jim Paulo Sarsagat (AMSA-Philippines)

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