Health leaders from 37 countries attending the 70th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific have endorsed calls to ramp up the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and tobacco use throughout the Region.
In response to the growing threat posed by infections that have become resistant to treatment — so-called superbugs, delegates endorsed the Framework for Accelerating Action to Fight Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in the Western Pacific Region.
The Framework sets out new ways to slow the emergence and spread of AMR and address its impact on health and economies in the Region and guides countries on implementing sustained, forward-looking, and inclusive solutions.
Delegates were told that without additional action some 10 million people will die due to AMR by 2050, with some 4.5 million in the Asia-Pacific region. Hard-won victories against diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV face being lost due to increasing AMR rates, the seminar heard.
Smoke free – millions addicted
Delegates also heard how interference by the tobacco industry is preventing the implementation of effective tobacco control measures.
While the industry has attempted to rebrand itself as committed to a ‘smoke-free’ future through new products such as electronic cigarettes or ‘vaping’ devices, these have already addicted millions of people. Delegates were told this threatens to reverse gains made against traditional tobacco products and derail progress towards achieving tobacco reduction goals.
|WHO delegates called for greater action on tobacco control Video WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific|
Tobacco smoking prevalence in the WHO Western Pacific Region fell from 29.9 per cent in 2000 to 24.8 per cent in 2015, however, with current tobacco control efforts, the projected decline is expected to fall short of the 2025 target.
To boost tobacco control efforts delegates endorsed the Regional Action Plan for Tobacco Control (RAPTC) in the Western Pacific (2020–2030).
Among other things, it calls on the WHO to support governments in accelerating tobacco control measures set out in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its guidelines for implementation.
Stressing the need for a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, the RAPTC warns of the need to be vigilant to emerging challenges in tobacco control, such as the ‘concerning proliferation and use of electronic nicotine delivery systems and heated tobacco products’ – especially among young people.
Measles, rubella still a risk
Delegates also heard of key challenges remaining to ensuring every child throughout the Region is protected against rubella and measles.
Only nine countries and areas in the Region have sustained measles elimination (no prolonged local transmission for at least three years), with five of these also having sustained rubella elimination.
While several countries in the Region are making good progress, delegates heard that as long as the virus is circulating elsewhere people who are not immunised remain at risk of infection from an imported case. This could lead to an outbreak or re-establishment of transmission.
In 2018 23 countries in the Region reported national immunisation coverage at or above 90 per cent for the first dose of measles–rubella vaccine –18 of which were above 95 per cent.
To prevent outbreaks at least 95 per cent of the population in all communities must be immunised with two doses of vaccine, the conference heard.
HIV, Hep, & TB
HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis (TB) remain a challenge for the Region with an estimated 1.9 million people living with HIV, some 130 million people infected with hepatitis B/ hepatitis C, while 1.8 million new cases of TB were recorded in 2017.
The conference heard that access to HIV treatment in the Region grew from 34 per cent in 2014 to 59 per cent last year, with 1.11 million people living with HIV receiving antiretroviral treatment.
Despite current HIV prevention efforts in the Region focusing on key populations, such as men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and sex workers, there was some 120,000 new cases of HIV in 2018.
Hepatitis also remains a challenge for the Region with an estimated 115 million people with chronic hepatitis B infection and 14 million with chronic hepatitis C infection.
Only 17 per cent of patients have been diagnosed and a mere 3 per cent are receiving treatment. Seventeen countries having developed, or are in the process of drafting, national hepatitis action plans, the gathering heard.
The ongoing battle against TB was also positive news, despite 114,000 multidrug-resistant cases being detected in 2017, with the success rate for treatment remaining above 90 per cent for the past several years.
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes remain the largest cause of premature death throughout the Region, responsible for 86 per cent of early deaths, while depression is the single biggest cause of ill health and disability.
Boosting health for newborns
Delegates heard that since October 2016, the number of babies benefiting from WHO’s recommendations on Early Essential Newborn Care (EENC) has more than tripled.
By early this year almost 7,000 health facilities across eight priority countries — Cambodia, China, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Viet Nam — had adopted the protocols.
In Cambodia, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands 80 per cent of facilities providing childbirth services are implementing EENC.
More than 50,000 health professionals have been taught about routine childbirth and newborn care with 87 per cent of babies now receiving immediate skin-to-skin contact with their mother, and 85 per cent exclusively breastfed in their first days of life.
However, countries must continue scaling up EENC, improving the quality of care, and ensuring babies born preterm, with low birthweight, and by caesarean section benefit from EENC also, the meeting was told.
With many of the Region’s inhabitants among the most at risk globally from the effects of climate change a full day was devoted to discussing the climate crisis.
In addition to increased sea levels, delegates heard how warmer temperatures were increasing the range of vector-borne, as well as waterborne and food-borne diseases.
|limate change affects health by diminishing people’s access to clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter Video WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific|
To help nations effectively tackle the climate crisis the WHO Asia-Pacific Centre for Environment and Health in the Western Pacific Region was established in Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Delegates heard that annually about 3.5 million deaths in the Region are attributable to avoidable environmental risks.
Cambodia, Kiribati, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu are working with the WHO to make their health systems more climate resilient, while Pacific island countries and areas have developed a roadmap to implement the Pacific Islands Action Plan on Climate Change and Health.
Additionally, several countries are working with the WHO to facilitate access to the Green Climate Fund, and working with others to improve water and sanitation services in health facilities, and strengthen occupational health.
The 71st session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific will be held in Japan between October 5 and 9, 2020.
- WHO Western Pacific steps up efforts to fight antimicrobial resistance (Xinhua)
- Perspective on Pharma: Tackling AMR through sustainable antibiotic production (EPM)
- Antimicrobial resistance: Vardhan calls for action (Health Issues India)
After graduation she worked at the Philippine Broadcasting Service performing transcription and business news writing, before moving to Eagle Broadcasting Corporation where she worked as a news editor, translator and production assistant.