Six countries awarded for meeting public health goals by WHO

Eliminating endemic diseases, enhancing emergency preparedness and achieving universal care (UHC) to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure are among the key health issues discussed at the 72nd Regional Committee Session of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) South-East Asia Region on Tuesday.

Health ministers of six countries were felicitated for public health achievements by the Regional Committee, which is the highest decision-making and governing body of the WHO in South East Asia Region,which is home to one-fourth of the world’s population.

Sri Lanka was recognised for eliminating measles; Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand for becoming the first four countries from the region to control Hepatitis B; and Maldives for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

“Disease eliminations have always been high on our agenda. When I talk about sustain, accelerate and innovate, ‘accelerate’ is to step up efforts to eliminate diseases like the neglected tropical diseases,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director,WHO South-East Asia.

Combating non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancers, increasing immunisation coverage, addressing the health impacts of climate change, the eliminating communicable diseases like measles and tuberculosis (TB) are other areas of priority being discussed.

Smart and effective governance with a strong emphasis on integrating programmes and services in the health sector helped the region become polio free in 2014 and eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus in 2016. “Innovative policies to enhance human resources for health, reduce out-of-pocket expenses, strengthen the quality of medical products and services, and increase coverage for all people everywhere… can sustain progress, accelerate and innovate to meet public health goals in the region,” said Dr Khetrapal Singh, who was unanimously re-elected as regional director for a second five-year term beginning February 1.

“India is at the brink of a healthcare sector revolution, with the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi moving with urgency to change the health landscape by setting ambitious and unprecedented targets to provide global standards of healthcare to make India disease-free and achieve UHC for all,”said Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, who cycled to the conference to promote physical activity on Tuesday.

The citations for Hepatitis B control were presented to Nepal’s deputy prime minister and health minister Upendra Yadav, Bhutan’s health minister Ms Dechen Wangmo; Thailand’s deputy minister of public health Sathit Pitutecha, and additional secretary health services Bangladesh, Md Saidur Rahman. Reducing hepatitis B prevalence to less than one per cent among five-year-olds lowers chronic infections and cases of liver cancer and cirrhosis. The award for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis went to Maldives health minister Abdulla Ameen.

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