Technical briefing for Member States of the South-East Asia Region on subjects to be discussed at the 142nd Session of the Executive Board and 27th meeting of PBAC

9 January 2018, New Delhi, India

Distinguished delegates, Excellency,

A very Happy New Year to you all.

We gather today at the start of a new biennium – an opportunity to consolidate achievements, accelerate momentum, and chart bold progress where progress is needed.

But the start of this biennium has a unique tone and tenor – one that I’m sure you sense. The achievements you have forged in the last biennium has inspired confidence for our work this year.

Between 2016 and 2017 the South-East Asia Region became the second WHO region to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus. Thailand became the first country in Asia to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and syphilis. Maldives and Sri Lanka eliminated malaria, while Bhutan and Maldives eliminated measles. The Region continues to be polio-free.

Our commitment to leaving no one behind was reflected in key victories over neglected tropical diseases. India is now yaws-free. Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand have eliminated lymphatic filariasis. Nepal has eliminated trachoma and maintained the elimination target for kala-azar for three consecutive years. 98% of sub-districts in Bangladesh and 85% of blocks in India have done the same. As a whole, the Region remains responsible for the world’s largest preventive chemotherapy campaign.

While bringing change to the lives of millions, WHO South-East Asia has carried out key organizational and administrative reforms, including Country Office Review missions and the new SEARO monitoring and Evaluation System. To give just one example, the number of outstanding Direct Financial Contribution reports was reduced from 260 in January 2014 to 2 as of 20 December 2017.

Given these tremendous achievements – your achievements – the start of a new biennium is indeed reason for optimism and confidence – a belief that anything is possible with the right strategy and commitment.

But broader machinations in global health and development also account for the unique feeling we share – the sense that history is upon us.

As you know, WHO has a new Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. He has made it his mission to deliver on the 1978 Declaration of Alma Ata – the pursuit of health coverage for all. This goal resonates deeply in our Region and is embedded in our Flagship Priorities. Dr Tedros is also steering the Organization through a decisive period in our quest to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal targets by 2030. Notably, he has identified country-level impact as the primary gauge of our progress, and of WHO’s value and efficiency – a shift in focus that is to be welcomed, as I’m sure delegates around the table will agree.

In light of these developments at country, regional and global level it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this briefing on the 142nd Session of the WHO Executive Board – or EB – and the 27th Meeting of the Programme Budget and Administration Committee.

I move now to the specifics of why we are here and what we want to achieve.

As I’m sure you appreciate, we are here to forge a common – or as common as possible – position on key issues that affect the health and wellbeing of our Region’s 1.8 billion people. In Geneva the Executive Board will discuss many critically important issues, beginning with the draft 13th General Programme of Work – or GPW. The GPW will define where we are headed as an organization and how we will get there. It will impact all levels of the Organization. By developing our position in advance our voice as individual Member States and as a Region will be amplified and the best possible outcomes achieved.

To this end I am pleased many of you are already familiar with the GPW’s significance, as well as the draft contents. The Special Session of the Executive Board held last November was immensely useful in outlining to Member States the process of the GPW’s development and adoption. Many who took part in the Special Session – either directly or through their missions – appreciated the inclusivity of the process. They also expressed general satisfaction at the draft document.

It is of course an ambitious document. The draft GPW identifies three strategic priorities: health coverage, health emergencies and health priorities. In each of these areas it aims for WHO to impact at least one billion people globally – hence the ‘triple billion’ target. The draft document’s vision and focus should nevertheless be familiar – after all, much of it reflects our own.

The GPW’s first strategic priority – health coverage – is one of the Region’s Flagship Priorities. As you know, in recent years we have implemented a series of key initiatives to increase human resources for health and make essential medicines more accessible across the Region. We are deeply committed to achieving universal health coverage.

The GPW’s second strategic priority – health emergencies – is another of our Flagship Priorities. To this end we have expanded the scope and mandate of SEARHEF and increased assessments of emergency risk management capacity. In a year of several public health crises, our ability to act with decisive efficiency has been noted within the Region and beyond.

And the GPW’s third strategic priority – health priorities – is again synchronized with much of our programme. Just last year, successful high-level meetings were held to accelerate action towards ending HIV, TB and malaria, while progress on maternal, child and newborn mortality has been strong. The Region has now achieved the Millennium Development Goal target for under-five mortality, while a few Member States have already surpassed the child health-related Sustainable Development Goals.

Still, despite the draft’s positive reception, constructive feedback has been forthcoming.

Specific questions have been asked regarding whether the targets are realistic, and how they could possibly be measured. Comments have been proffered on the role of health promotion and whether it can overcome health’s broader social determinants if at all. And concerns have been raised about what exactly a more ‘operational’ WHO means, and whether that entails weakening its normative strength – arguably the Organization’s greatest strength.

These are all substantial questions. I look very much forward to discussing them further in the course of this briefing.

I nevertheless have the pleasure of noting, distinguished delegates, that the draft GPW is just one of the items on this briefing’s agenda, as it is on the EB’s. During the course of this briefing our departments will work to see that you are fully up-to-speed on a range of critical issues, including:

  • WHO reform;
  • Public health preparedness and response;
  • Health, environment and climate change;
  • Addressing the global shortage of – and access to – medicines and vaccines;
  • The global strategy and plan of action on public health, innovation and intellectual property;
  • The Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016-2030);
  • mHealth
  • Maternal, infant and young child nutrition;
  • The Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework for the sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits;
  • And evaluation of the updated and proposed workplan for 2018–2019

Distinguished delegates,

The Programme, Budget and Administration Committee of the Executive Board – or PBAC – which is held before the EB, focuses on the administrative and financial matters the EB will consider. Following deliberations it submits its report to the EB and makes a series of recommendations.

The issues the PBAC will consider include the Report of the Independent Expert Oversight Advisory Committee and the Financing of the Programme budget. Importantly, it will also look at the EB papers on the draft thirteenth general programme of work 2019–2023. It will do so alongside other key documents such as the strategy and implementation plan for value for money in WHO and the Report of the International Civil Services Commission and Amendments to staff regulations and staff rules.

Though uninspiring in name, these documents have significant import for our Organization and require due – and proper – consideration. I urge you to provide that.

Distinguished delegates,

I understand this is a lot to digest. To help do that briefing papers have been prepared on all agenda items of the two meetings and regional priorities and issues with regard to agenda items. In addition, the HQ background papers on each agenda item are already on WHO’s Governing Bodies webpage.

In order to efficiently utilize the short time we have, my team will make brief presentations on 20 agenda items deemed to be of critical importance to our Region. We of course welcome your inputs and discussion on any other item you wish to take up.

I take this opportunity to emphasize that the quality of your deliberations and the suggestions you provide will be immensely important to the outcomes the Region achieves in Geneva. By extension, they will be immensely important to the health and wellbeing of the individuals, communities and countries that constitute our Region.

I also reiterate that distinguished delegates are most welcome to seek clarification or request additional information on any of the agenda items. The secretariat will be pleased to assist you.

With that I wish you a successful and engaging briefing, and look forward to seeing you in Geneva, where our collective voice will be as strong, unified and impactful as we make it via this critically important briefing.

Thank you.