Innovate, collaborate, integrate for public health gains: WHO

New Delhi, September 3: Using innovative policies to strengthen health services and workforce for emergency risk management and health for all are among the key issues to be discussed during the five-day 72nd Regional Committee Session of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) South-East Asia Region, which was inaugurated by Union health minister Harsh Vardhan.
The Regional Committee is the highest decision-making and governing body meeting of the WHO in South East Asia Region, which is home to one-fourth of the world’s population.
Calling Universal health Coverage (UHC) the defining mission of public health across the world, WHO South-East Asia regional director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said it has also become the bedrock of health policy for countries in the region.
“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 that began on February 1.
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.
“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 was elected as the chairperson for the 72nd session.
“For India, 2018 was a watershed year when health was made a national priority and the government fast-fast-tracked initiatives to UHC (universal health coverage). Ayushman Bharat is the road to UHC, under which 150,000 health and wellness centres are being set up, of which more 20,000 are operational. PMJAY health protection scheme, which offers cover to 100 million families for pre- and post-hospitalisation expenses, has more than 17,000 empanelled hospitals and 1.4 million beneficiaries in less than a year,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan.
Strengthening regional collaboration by sharing ideas, perspectives and experiences can be the game-changer to address health priorities such as measles elimination and rubella control; preventing NCDs; reducing maternal, under-five and neonatal mortality; achieving UHC; combating antimicrobial resistance; scaling up capacities for emergency risk management; eliminating neglected tropical diseases, and accelerating efforts to end TB.
Smart and effective governance within the health sector, with a strong emphasis on integrating programmes and services, is the need of the hour. “In the SDG era, we must embrace purpose-driven, big-picture thinking and apply it to even the smallest interventions to increase efficiency, while at the same time filling gaps and ensuring all people can access the services they need, when they need them,” said Dr Khetrapal Singh, underlining the critical importance of strong and effective partnerships, not only within government, but also beyond it.
Over the past five years, WHO South-East Asia Region has crossed several public health milestones. Between 1990 and 2015, maternal mortality ratio declined by 69%, under-five mortality by 70%. DPR Korea, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand have met global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets for neonatal and under-5 mortality, and Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand have met goals for maternal mortality.
In 2014, the region eradicated polio, and 2016, it eliminated maternal and neonatal tetanus. Maldives and Sri Lanka have eliminated malaria, and Thailand and Maldives have eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.
Even as developed countries are struggling to contain measles outbreaks, Bhutan, Maldives, DPR Korea, Timor-Leste and Sri Lanka have eliminated measles, and Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste have controlled rubella. Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand have eliminated lymphatic filariasis. India is yaws-free; Nepal has eliminated trachoma. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand have controlled Hepatitis B.
With one quarter of the world’s population, this region’s success and challenges have a major impact on global health indicators. “After eradicating polio in 2014, the South-East Asia region became the second to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus. Five countries eliminated measles, and six have controlled rubella….I think we can say that South-East Asia is becoming the disease elimination capital of the world!” said Dr Bernhard Schwartlander, chef de cabinet, WHO, Geneva. (Courtesy: HT)