Top health officials from various countries in the Western Pacific region gather this week at the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific regional office for the 70th session of its Regional Committee.

The annual meeting will set priorities and approve programs to protect and promote the health of the “dynamically changing” region’s 1.9 billion people.

“The Western Pacific Region is a very diverse region where we have the biggest countries in the world and we also have the smallest. It spans from Mongolia to the north and New Zealand in the south, the French Polynesia in the East and China to the west. We have one of the most advanced countries in the region and then the fast and developing economies, but at the same time, we have small and sparsely populated island states,”  said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai, in his remarks before foreign and local media.

He said the Regional Committee is one of the WHO’s highest governance bodies, made up of ministers of health and top-ranking officials from 37 countries of about 180 people from member-states, and about 100 partners, including nongovernment organizations.

Kasai said he was on his first assignment as regional director and his office had submitted papers on programs for member-states for the next five years.

“Obviously, economic development brings health but at the same time, starts to pose some challenges including the widening gap, demographic changes like ageing, and the increase in non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity,” Kasai added.

While the WHO is also concerned about the impact of climate change on health, it is alarmed about health security, particularly antimicrobial resistance.

The meeting will also prioritize a significant portion of the region’s population not reached by health services and those afflicted by communicable diseases and significant maternal and child mortality. 

It will also discuss approaches to child protection from the “harmful impact of food marketing.”

Sugary food is often accessible to children of school age, the WHO said, and too much exposure to sugar might lead to obesity and eventually to diabetes and related illnesses. (Melo M. Acuña)