President Mamoon Hussain inaugurated the sixty-fourth session of the Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Islamabad on 9th of October. The four day event is being attended by representatives of all 22 countries in WHO’s Mediterranean region, Director General WHO, Regional Director for Eastern Mediterranean and more than 250 public health leaders and eminent global health experts.
Hosting of this international event is indeed a matter of great satisfaction and pride for Pakistan as it is significant from a number of perspectives besides the health issues which are being deliberated upon. It represents a snub to those elements within the country who have been crying hoarse from every convenient roof-top to rub in the notion of isolation of Pakistan in the region as well as the global level. It is a strong rebuke to the countries, particularly India which has been trying her utmost to isolate Pakistan through a relentless propaganda at all the international forums. It also indicates the confidence of the international community in the improved security situation in the country and its credentials as a determined and committed partner in the international efforts to subdue the scourge of terrorism. And above all this mega health event is reflective of country’s increasing role as a major player in serving the cause of global health issues.
The matters being deliberated by the forum include regional scenario in regards to spread of diseases, fighting epidemics, social protection, control of non-communicable diseases with major focus on areas of public health, emergencies and health security, adolescent health and strengthening of the health system to adequately cope with these disease. These health issues are also part of the seventeen targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and would go a long way in aligning our health coverage system with the universal health coverage regime as well as the overall targets of SGDs.
It is pertinent to point out that Pakistan has already done a fabulous job in improving drug regulatory regimes, bar coding of drugs, drug testing and surveillance at par with international standards besides marked improvement in immunization coverage of children. In regards to issues pertaining to clean air and climate change which are also important goals of SDGs, Pakistan has established a separate ministry of Climate change which, in consultation with stakeholders and NGOs, is working on better legislative mechanisms and also taking various other measures to ward off the negative impact of this phenomenon on overall environment and health related issues.
Pakistan is the only country in the world where the parliament has a secretariat to monitor progress on the SDGs. This secretariat was established in 2013 which has due representation of all the political parties. The Secretariat has been collecting comprehensive data on all the 17 subjects of the SDGS and cooperating with the provincial task forces, which also have been striving hard for the achievement of the those goals. The SDGS secretariat is also assisting the parliament in the legislative process and making budgetary allocations.
The Regional Committee will be invited to endorse a proposed regional framework for action on cancer prevention and control. Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, representing nearly one in six deaths globally. In WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, most cases of cancer are diagnosed at a late stage when treatments are less effective which results in poorer outcomes for patients. The proposed framework will assist countries to decide which priority interventions to implement for cancer prevention and control according to their national context.
The Committee will also be invited to endorse a proposed updated framework for action on climate change and health. Climate change is among the biggest global health threats of the 21st century. Rising global temperatures are affecting the intensity and frequency of heat waves and the incidence of extreme weather conditions such as flooding and droughts. Climate change poses serious, yet preventable, effects on human health and intensifies morbidity and mortality, especially among vulnerable populations. WHO considers that climate change represents a fundamental threat to lives and well-being and has called for urgent global action to protect health from climate-related risks.
The SDGs, which seek to achieve sustainable global economic, social and environmental development by 2030, cannot be realized without investment in adolescent health and well-being. Many adolescent diseases and injuries are preventable or treatable, but are often neglected. The adolescent mortality rate in low-income and middle-income countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region is the second highest in the world. The Global Accelerated Action for Health of Adolescent Guidance, is a tool for national policy-makers and programme managers to assist them in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating adolescent health programmes. The member states of the Regional Committee will also be focusing on this area as they are urged to translate the commitments made in the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent Health 2016–2030 into action by developing and implementing national strategic plans for adolescent health.
Also on the agenda is antimicrobial resistance, which has emerged as a major public health problem that threatens the advances of modern medicine. While countries of the Region recognize antimicrobial resistance as an important public health problem and are committed to addressing the problem, they face a range of challenges, including a lack of data on the extent of the problem.
Pakistan is surely going to benefit tremendously from the deliberations of the WHO regional moot on health issues by sharing its experiences with the member states and discussing initiatives to control different diseases and improving the public health, particularly the adolescent health where a lot of work needs to be done. Pakistan would also be deriving political and diplomatic mileage from this global event that will help her in refurbishing its image at the global level.