Address by the Regional Director at the Side Event “Friends of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs): Supporting Member States to achieve the NCD-related Sustainable Development Goals targets”

23 September 2019, UNHQ, New York

Good afternoon and a very warm welcome. It is a privilege to be with you – friends of the Inter-Agency Task Force – for this event in a week where UHC takes center stage.

I start by highlighting an important fact: NCD and UHC agendas are co-dependent.

We cannot achieve SDG 3 unless we reach our NCD targets, and we cannot reach our NCD targets unless we advance towards SDG 3 and its defining mission – UHC.

I am pleased the Task Force recognizes this and is mobilizing the UN’s technical and operational resources accordingly.

As the UN’s health agency and the lead on both agendas, WHO appreciates the Task Force’s efforts. They reflect our longstanding emphasis on the need for multisectoral action and a whole-of-society approach.

The Task Force and the UN system have much to offer our continued battle against NCDs, and therefore our quest to achieve UHC.

Before we discuss how, I note with appreciation the Task Force’s support to the South-East Asia Region, which has made strong gains on both agendas.

On UHC, a progress report released earlier this month found that the coverage of essential services has improved to 61% from 47% in 2010. The density of health workers has meanwhile increased from 21.5 per 10 000 people in 2014 to 27.1 in 2017.

Unprecedented attention is now being paid to improving access to essential medicines, with the South-East Asia Regulatory Network facilitating collaboration between countries to enhance quality.

Under the ambitious double-pronged Ayushman Bharat programme, India is creating 150 000 health and wellness centers to provide an expanded range of primary health services closer to communities. It is covering half a billion people with the world’s largest health insurance scheme.

WHO and its Member states in the Region will continue to focus technical and operational resources on achieving UHC, which has been a Flagship Priority since 2014.

On combating NCDs, which is also a Flagship Priority, all 11 of the Region’s Member States have developed and are now implementing multisectoral action plans that address the problem. These plans reflect political commitment, which is at an all-time high.

For example, the Region’s Member States lead the world in terms of graphic health warnings on tobacco products. Earlier this month, Thailand became the first country in Asia to introduce plain packaging. Several countries have taken firm steps to tackle e-cigarettes.

Concerted efforts have meanwhile been put into detecting and managing NCDs at the primary level, with the WHO package of essential noncommunicable disease interventions being rolled out in a number of countries.

Member States are increasingly looking to shape the political economy of the food environment, and to giving consumers better access to healthier choices. I look forward to this continuing, with a focus on catalyzing action across sectors.

Excellencies, distinguished participants,

I appreciate the support the Task Force has provided to Member States. The UN system has shown itself a champion in the battle against NCDs. I am certain that it will continue to do that, and that we will fully leverage the power of this Task Force.

We in the South-East Asia Region are committed to doing so. We very much welcome the Task Force’s ongoing work at the sub-national level, as well as its efforts to identify and review lessons learned, especially as we in our Region approach five years since national NCD action plans were first developed and implemented.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the recipients of today’s awards. They are well deserved. Speaking as the Regional Director of WHO SEARO, I make special note of Bhutan and Sri Lanka, who for many years have been at the fore of our battle against NCDs. Their leadership has been inspiring.

Before closing, I congratulate the Task Force for the launch of its Health Taxes Policy brief. I am certain it will accelerate Member States’ many initiatives in this area. I also look forward to reading the briefs on how different agencies are supporting country action, as well as the in-depth case studies.

I once again thank our co-hosts for facilitating today’s deliberations and assure you of our ongoing support.

On both the NCD and UHC agendas, WHO South-East Asia and its Member states will continue to go from strength to strength, as per our Flagship Priorities and the Region’s ‘Sustain. Accelerate. Innovate’ vision.

Thank you.