The WHO (World Health Organisation) South-East Asia Region (SEAR) commended Bhutan and the Maldives for eliminating measles, at the inaugural of the Regional Committee meeting in Malé yesterday.

In recognition of the commitment and efforts made by the health ministry for successfully eliminating measles, the WHO will award a certificate of appreciation to both the countries.

Health minister of Maldives, Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim and the special envoy of the President of Maldives and the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Dr Mohamed Shainee addressed the meeting’s inaugural session.

Regional Director for WHO SEAR, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said the challenges the region face is real and complex.

“In this region, we are committed to the achievement of universal health coverage. Every single country is making headway and we have powerful means to measure progress,” she said.

Universal health coverage (UHC) is the best and most powerful means the region has for changing peoples’ lives through better health, she said, emphasising on how sustained investment in health will ensure hard-won economic progress continues.

WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom, said, “there is nothing better you can do for the people of your countries than to invest in strengthening your health systems.

This includes ensuring the right number of health workers with the right skills, in the right places, to give the right care, at the right time. It means ensuring that essential medicines are available and that people do not have to choose between buying medicine and buying food.”

A strong health system is vital not only to help keep people healthy but is also the best defense against outbreaks and epidemics, Dr Tedros Adhanom said.

WHO officials commended member countries of WHO SEAR for a series of recent public health achievements which include the most recent measles elimination by Bhutan and the Maldives and lymphatic filariasis elimination by Thailand.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said the power of WHO is the power of countries working together. “We have a lot to learn from each other, and from the rest of the world.”

The focus of the meeting is on building health systems’ resilience to climate change. A well prepared and responsive health system is crucial for preventing and minimising the increasing health risks posed by climate change.

Improving access to essential medicines for all, intensifying efforts to end tuberculosis, vector control, eliminating hepatitis and road safety are among the key issues to be discussed.

The 70th session of the RC is held from September 6-10 and includes health ministers and senior health ministry officials of the region’s 11 member countries.

Dechen Tshomo | Malé