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WHO South-East Asia Region concludes talks on health priorities

Written by Caitlin Taylor and Somerset Lewis
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Flags flying out the front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the last day of the World Health Organisation's South-East Asia Region committee meeting Flags flying out the front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the last day of the World Health Organisation's South-East Asia Region committee meeting

The 11 member states of the World Health Organisation’s South-East Asia Region concluded talks last Friday following a week of discussions on health priorities facing the region. 

 

Representatives from Timor-Leste, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nepal, Thailand, Bangladesh and The Maldives spent last week addressing health issues surrounding tobacco consumption, tuberculosis, malaria management and emergency risk management, at the 68thsession of the committee meeting in Dili.

 

This year’s host country was the first to voice their concerns on the high prevalence of tobacco use across South-East Asia, and Timor-Leste in particular. 

 

Currently, the region accounts for over one-third of the world’s tobacco use, killing around 1.3 million here every year. Meanwhile, 56 per cent of Timor-Leste’s population are currently tobacco users, according to figures from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey. 

 

Director for the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Environmental Health for WHO, Dr Thaksaphon Thamarangsi, says without Timor-Leste, it’s unlikely tobacco consumption would have been adequately addressed. 

 

“Because of [Timor-Leste] tobacco control has become the agenda here,” he said. 

 

“This is the right time to have something very strong to control to control this most dangerous commodity (sic).”  

 

Another issue that has been on the region’s agenda for years is the elimination and control of malaria, as nearly 3.2 billion people continue to live in areas with risk of infection, according to WHO. 

 

In May the World Health Assembly adopted the Malaria Global Technical Strategy 2016-2030, which aims to reduce malaria deaths and disease by at least 90 per cent. But the task of tackling a variety of malaria strains means that the region’s overall strategy needs to be broadened. 

 

WHO’s Regional Director, Dr Poonam Khetrapal says the region now requires more targeted interventions for the P. vivax malaria, which is increasingly contributing to the disease’s global burden.  

 

“[P. vivax] is proving to be an extremely difficult parasite as it does not readily respond to the existing control measures and has the ability to remain hidden and beyond the reach of the currently available diagnostic tools and medication.”

 

Following the earthquakes in Nepal earlier this year and the spread of MERS Coronavirus, strengthening response to emergencies and outbreaks also became a key area of discussion this year. 

 

Throughout last week the Committee saw a demonstration of a Medical Camp Kit (MCK) that was used across Nepal this year, allowing for the adequate care of injured and displaced Nepalese. 

 

The solar powered kit contains everything needed in an emergency, including a staff room, consultation tent, a male and female ward, maternity tent and sanitation facilities, as well as a new water filtration system. 

 

“[The Kit] allows for some patients to be stabilised before you refer them, or to treat them for a few days because some of these patients travel from far away places to get there,” said Roderico Ofrin, the director of the Department of Health Security & Emergency Response. 

 

“It’s tailor made for Nepal, but it’s something we’d like to package generically because it can be used for other emergencies and it’s easy to reposition and send to a specific affected area.”

 

Timor-Leste has benefited from hosting last weeks committee meeting, with the country having been gifted the emergency MCK exhibited throughout the week, and the ability to interact with neighbouring nations.

 

 

“The benefit for us mainly is that we’re learning from other countries and we now know better (sic) about our health achievements,” says Dr Ana Isabel Soares, Timor-Leste’s Vice Minister for Health. 

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