WHO Southeast Asia members to meet to nominate its regional director, to discuss health issues

Session to also discuss ways to rein in cardiovascular diseases, end neglected tropical diseases and ensure regional health security

Updated - January 10, 2024 03:08 pm IST

Published - October 28, 2023 09:00 pm IST - NEW DELHI

World Health House, the WHO’s South-East Asia regional office in New delhi. Photo: who.int

World Health House, the WHO’s South-East Asia regional office in New delhi. Photo: who.int

Health Ministers and senior officials from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) South-East Asia member countries will meet this coming week in New Delhi to deliberate on priority health issues and nominate the next WHO regional director for South-East Asia. 

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The 76th session of the WHO regional committee for South-East Asia, the annual governing body meeting of WHO at the regional level, will be held from October 30 to November 2, 2023, according to an official communication. It added that WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO South-East Asia regional director Poonam Khetrapal Singh will be present.

Key topics

Accelerating prevention and control of cardiovascular diseases, ending neglected tropical diseases, and regional health security, are among the key issues to be discussed. A ministerial roundtable will be held on strengthening primary healthcare as a key element towards achieving universal health coverage, noted the regional office.

“On Wednesday, the regional committee will vote to nominate the next WHO regional director for South-East Asia. There are two candidates in the fray – Bangladesh nominee Saima Wazed and Nepal nominee Shambhu Prasad Acharya. The nomination will be submitted to the WHO executive board, which will meet during January 22-27, 2024, in Geneva, Switzerland. The newly appointed regional director will assume office on February 1, 2024 for a five-year term,” said a senior WHO South-East Asia official.

She added that at the regional committee, countries will be felicitated for public health achievements, many of them triggered by the focused approach towards the regional flagship priorities.


Giving an overview of the health issues in the region, the WHO office notes that this area is home to more than two billion people, and since 2014, the region has eliminated polio and maternal and neonatal tetanus. Four countries – Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste – have eliminated measles and rubella, one of the eight flagship priorities.

Prioritising elimination of neglected tropical diseases, four countries – Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Bangladesh – have eliminated lymphatic filariasis, while Nepal and Myanmar eliminated trachoma, and India was verified yaws-free. Additionally, Sri Lanka and Maldives eliminated malaria, while Thailand, Maldives and Sri Lanka eliminated mother-to-child transmission of syphilis and HIV. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand achieved hepatitis B control.

Focusing on accelerating reduction of maternal, neonatal and under-5 mortality, the region recorded 68.5 % reduction in maternal mortality between 2000 and 2020, and 45% reduction in under-5 mortality and 39% reduction in neonatal mortality during the period. Five countries – DPR Korea, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand – have achieved 2030 SDG (sustainable development goals) targets of reducing under-5 mortality and neonatal mortality.

“Prone to health emergencies, the region had been investing in strengthening preparedness and response capacities since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that hit multiple countries in the region and killed over 2,00,000 people. Countries have been enhancing International Health Regulation (2005) core capacities. The lessons from COVID-19 pandemic are now guiding the Regional Strategic Roadmap on Health Security and Health System Resilience for Emergencies 2023-2027,” said Dr. Khetrapal.

Tackling BP, diabetes

She added that the region is accelerating control of cardiovascular diseases with a target to place 100 million people with hypertension and/or diabetes on protocol-based management by 2025.

“We are committed to accelerating universal health coverage. With the focus on human resources for health and essential medicines, the availability of doctors, nurses and midwives has increased by over 30.6% since 2014. Countries in the region have been taking several initiatives to make universal health coverage a reality,” she added.

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