WHO (World Health Organisation) experts and senior officials from 11 member countries will attend the 70th session of the WHO Regional Committee meeting in Maldives’ Malé. The meeting will set health agenda for the South-East Asia region (SEAR).

A four-member delegation led by Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk will attend the five-day meeting that begins today. WHO’s director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom, and regional director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, will speak at the inaugural.

The Regional Committee (RC) is the decision-making body of WHO at the regional level where the existing and new health priorities are also discussed. The session will also endorse Malé Declaration on climate change.

Vector control, access to essential medicines, road safety, hepatitis, tuberculosis, sustainable development goals, and progress towards universal health coverage are some of the key issues the session will discuss.

WHO SEARO’s communication officer, Shamila Sharma, said the RC’s special theme, climate change, was suggested by the host country Maldives. “There will be a ministerial round table meeting on building health systems resilience to climate change.”

The regional experts will present priority health issues like eliminating measles and controlling rubella, building health systems resilient to climate change, vector control, and eliminating hepatitis.

“The newly appointed WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Hepatitis in the region, Amitabh Bachchan, will attend the hepatitis session to advocate for urgent action,” Shamila Sharma said.

The region’s director for communicable diseases department, Dr Swarup Kumar Sarkar, said half a million people in the region die every year because of hepatitis.

WHO SEARO’s director for non-communicable diseases and environmental health, Dr Thamarangsi Thaksaphon, said that Malé Declaration would be a renewed commitment of the health ministers. “It will provide impetus to strengthen health sector response and recognition of contribution by health determining sectors.”

Dr Thamarangsi Thaksaphon said the declaration is expected to mainstream climate change in the entire health system rather than addressing it separately.

The declaration is also expected to develop national health adaptation plans for climate change, encourage health sector to proactively collaborate with health determining sectors, synergise cross-country exchange of ideas and experiences, and contribute to achieving SDG goal 13 to combat climate change.

The RC meeting is hosted by one of the 11 member states of the region. Last year, it was hosted in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Dechen Tshomo