WHO revs up to surpass its goals set for South-East Asia

Dr Poonam Khetrapal | Updated on January 04, 2020

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Progress has been substantial, but more needs to be done on immunisation and other fronts

The World Health Organization’s South-East Asia region is home to over a quarter of the world’s population. And progress in this region has been substantial. But come 2020, it is imperative we build on it to hasten progress towards the Region’s eight Flagship Priorities (see box), WHO’s ‘triple billion’ targets and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The year gone by was a significant one for health and well-being in the region. Maldives and Sri Lanka eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Sri Lanka eliminated measles, making it the fifth country in the region to achieve the feat. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand were verified to have controlled hepatitis B. Nepal celebrated becoming open-defecation free. As per the latest data, the region is on track to achieve SDG targets on under-five and newborn mortality.

India continued to roll out its game-changing Ayushman Bharat. The programme will help achieve universal health coverage (UHC) in a country that accounts for more than one-sixth of humanity.

Myanmar accelerated the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Unhealthy products and the non-communicable diseases (NCDs) they cause are a major threat to sustainable development across the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Indonesia and Timor-Leste continue to make advances against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Both are looking to achieve several last-mile victories as they strive to keep the promise and leave no one behind. Having eliminated measles, DPR Korea is working to eliminate rubella — a goal highlighted in the Region’s recently updated Flagship Priorities. The region is leveraging its joint commitment and expertise.

The Seventy-Second session of the Regional Committee in September was also a great success. The Delhi Declaration on Emergency Preparedness, which all Member States adopted, will ensure that progress on this very important Flagship Priority continues. WHO’s work to protect the health of the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, is ongoing. In 2019 the region continued to stand tall on the world stage.

Road ahead

Looking to build on this progress, the region needs to continue to expand routine immunisation coverage. To do that, the WHO will support countries to find innovative ways to reach the unreached and under-served, to introduce new vaccines and to make them more cost-effective, including via pooled procurement. Eliminating measles and rubella are top priorities, as is ensuring all countries introduce the HPV vaccine to protect women against cervical cancer.

Another important area in the region involves scaling up the two-pronged approach towards preventing and controlling NCDs. From increasing levies on unhealthy products to developing the capacity of front line services to prevent, detect and treat NCDs, our potential to chart bold progress is immense.

Attention also needs to be on enhancing maternal and child health to focus on addressing stillbirths and promoting early childhood development. While the tegion will continue to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality, including by expanding access to antenatal and safe birthing services, its dramatic and sustained progress is facilitating new areas of action that will contribute to achieving SDG 3, the health goal, in addition to several others.

Countries also need to leverage all opportunities to increase access to quality medicines and medical products. On that score, WHO will support Member States to make full use of the South-East Asia Regulatory Network, which promotes regulatory collaboration within the rregion. WHO will also help countries develop and maintain information systems for the routine monitoring of price, availability and affordability of essential medicines.

All initiatives will, of course, contribute to a single overarching goal: achieving UHC. From the battle against TB and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) to the quest to roll back antimicrobial resistance, the South-East Asia Region is committed to ensuring each person’s right to health is respected, protected and fulfilled. For the region’s near two billion people, anything less is less than adequate.

In 2019, the South-East Asia Region set a new benchmark for public health. In 2020 and beyond. we aim to surpass it.

At a glance
  • Eight priority programmes include efforts towards reducing maternal and child mortality, elimination of measles and rubella by 2023, progress on UHC, elimination of neglected tropical diseases
  • Sustainable Development Goals or a blueprint for 2030 involves 17 key goals aimed at a sustainable future.
  • “Triple billion” targets a billion more benefiting from UHC, better health and well-being, and protection from health emergencies, respectively.



The writer is Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia. Views are personal

Published on January 04, 2020

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