High Level Preparatory Meeting for the Seventy-first Session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia

30 July - 2 August 2018, New Delhi, India

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, colleagues

A very good morning to you.

It gives me immense pleasure to welcome you to our temporary offices to attend this High-Level Preparatory Meeting for the Seventy-first session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia.

While our old building was a familiar landmark to you and to us, our commitment to supporting you and achieving a healthier South-East Asia Region remains as strong as ever.

Importantly – and as you may have noted – our move to these temporary offices was seamless, due in large part to our staff’s work ethic. Our staff’s commitment ensured the least possible disturbance to our ongoing activities and priorities.

Quite literally, they shut their office doors on Friday evening and were back to work on Monday morning. Their resolve is commendable.

The commitment displayed is immensely inspiring, especially as we celebrate our Organization’s 70th birthday this year, with the WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia the first regional office established.

To mark 70 years of WHO’s presence in the Region and its support to its Member States, I am pleased to share we will be publishing a history of our joint work, our joint achievements, our joint impact on peoples’ health and wellbeing, the lessons learned along the way and the challenges we continue to face, which will be released at the Regional Committee.

I am certain you will find the publication immensely useful, and that it will serve as a key reference to all those interested in health and development in our Region.

Excellencies and distinguished delegates,

Though you are familiar with the High-Level Preparatory Meeting – or HLP’s – objective, allow me to reiterate a few points.

Since 2008 HLP Meetings have been held before each Regional Committee session. They serve as an advisory body to the Regional Director and are critically important to the successful conduct of the Regional Committee, which is WHO’s highest constitutional Governing Body at the regional level.

The Regional Office holds the HLP Meeting to encourage detailed and candid discussions among Member States on all Agenda items. It does so with a view to developing consensus by bridging differences in individual positions on specific Agenda items. Sometimes, however, difference is natural due to distinct national contexts, and is to be respected.

With that in mind, however, the discussions and agreements reached at this Meeting will be extremely useful in enabling the Regional Committee to deal with the corresponding Agenda items expeditiously, and in a manner acceptable to all Member States. The HLP Meeting’s outcomes will be submitted to the Regional Committee, item by item, for its consideration. By achieving consensus now, we will achieve greater efficiency later.

Distinguished delegates,

As many of you know, dates for the HLP Meeting are usually fixed in a manner that allows the Secretariat sufficient time to incorporate all HLP Meeting recommendations into the Regional Committee working papers before they are shared with Member States. However, this year we delayed the HLP meeting on account of WHA71’s adoption of GPW13 and the subsequent and on-going discussions regarding the “triple billion” targets and strategic priorities and shifts that will be needed to achieve them.

As part of that process we wanted to capture the latest three-level discussions that will, in turn, help us decide on country prioritization and the support plans needed to translate priorities into action.

Against this background, over the coming four days we will cover Agenda items that are proposed to be considered by the Seventy-first Session of the Regional Committee, which include, among other items, matters related to the programme budget, policy and technical matters, progress reports on select Regional Committee resolutions, matters related to Governing Bodies, management and governance, and special programmes.

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

WHO was founded to ensure a world in which all people enjoy the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental human right. I am pleased to note that GPW13, which you adopted, reflects that conviction.

Indeed, GPW13 is about not settling for a world in which people get sick because of the air they breathe. It is about not settling for a world in which people must choose between sickness and poverty because of the costs of paying for health care from their own pockets. And it is about not settling for a world in which the highest attainable standard of health is considered a secondary right.

Though GPW13 is ambitious, it is achievable, and designed to help the world reach the Sustainable Development Goals, with a particular focus on SDG3: ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing for all at all ages by 2030.

GPW13 sets three ambitious targets: to ensure that by 2023 1 billion more people benefit from universal health coverage; 1 billion more people are better protected from health emergencies; and 1 billion more people enjoy better health and wellbeing. WHO estimates that achieving this “triple billion” target could save 29 million lives.

The Organization must make several strategic shifts to achieve these targets, including stepping up its public health leadership; focusing its impact at the country level; and ensuring people can access authoritative and strategic information on matters that affect health.

The Assembly also passed resolutions on:

  • A 5-year roadmap to address access to, and the global shortage of, medicines and vaccines;
  • A roadmap to reduce deaths from cholera by 90% by 2030;
  • Reducing the unacceptable burden of deaths and disabilities from snakebite;
  • Tuberculosis and Noncommunicable diseases, as we prepare for the High-Level meetings at the UN General Assembly in September;
  • The Global Action Plan for Physical Activity, which is essential for our fight against noncommunicable diseases;
  • The International Health Regulations, to improve public health preparedness and response by strengthening core capacities;
  • Improving access to assistive technologies like wheelchairs, hearing aids, walking sticks and reading glasses;
  • A global coordinated response to rheumatic heart disease, which affects 30 million people each year, mostly girls and women;
  • Digital technologies to improve health and keep the world safe;
  • Increasing the proportion of WHO interns who come from developing countries to 50%, and paying them a stipend by 2020.

Several of these resolutions require immediate action. We must work together with Member States and partners to attain the desired objectives.

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

At this year’s Regional Committee in New Delhi we will have a Ministerial Round-Table – or MRT – discussion on a topic that is immensely significant, not only globally but especially in our Region: ‘Improving access to essential medicines in the Region and beyond’.

As you are aware, this is an issue that affects all Member States in more ways than one. We are committed to support you in preparing for, facilitating and implementing plans to improve access to essential medicines, whether they involve bilateral or multilateral initiatives.

Besides the MRT topic, the agenda for this four-day meeting is packed with several important policy and technical matters, including:

  • Malaria: From declaration to action, and intensifying dengue vector control;
  • The Decade for Health Workforce Strengthening in SEA Region 2015–2024: Second review of progress, challenges, capacities and opportunities;
  • Regional progress in survival of newborns, children and mothers: Moving towards Global Strategy targets;
  • Strengthening SEA Region EMTs for health emergency response; and
  • Annual report on monitoring progress on UHC and health-related SDGs.

Importantly, progress reports on select Regional Committee Resolutions will also be presented, including on expanding the scope of the South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund (SEARHEF); covering every birth and death: improving civil registration and vital statistics; promoting physical activity in the South-East Asia Region; and 2012, the year of intensification of routine immunization in the South-East Asia Region: Framework for increasing and sustaining coverage.

Our discussions on the above agenda items will be very much enriched by your inputs and guidance. I hereby reiterate that the outcome of your deliberations and the suggestions you provide will be critical to our upcoming Regional Committee.

Distinguished delegates,

Your progress on the regional Flagship Priorities is a matter of immense personal satisfaction for me. Across the Region substantial gains have been made. Your ready cooperation has also seen us consistently rated as the top performing region in terms of programme implementation. I thank you for your diligence.

I also take this opportunity to thank Member States for their active participation in the Seventy-first World Health Assembly, and for presenting a unified regional voice on several key issues. You were heard loud and clear and I look forward to a series of outcomes being considered by the Regional Committee.

Indeed, I am confident that you will do justice to these and other issues by discussing each Agenda item thoroughly and arriving at unanimous recommendations for the Regional Committee’s consideration in September.

For your ease of reference and convenience, briefing papers have been prepared on the Agenda items, along with short presentations that our Secretariat will make during the meeting to efficiently utilize the time we have at our disposal.

I take this opportunity to reiterate the Secretariat’s support and its willingness to provide any assistance you may require during this four-day meeting. You are, therefore, welcome to seek any clarification or request additional information on any of the agenda items. Our Secretariat will be pleased to assist you.

On that note, I wish you a successful and productive High-Level Preparatory Meeting and a pleasant stay in New Delhi.

Thank you.