WHO Appoints New Regional Director for the Western Pacific

Default Profile ImageBen O'Connell
World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board today confirmed the appointment of Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala of Tonga as WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Following his confirmation, Dr Piukala addressed the Executive Board: “Today, I stand before you as the first Regional Director from the Pacific in WHO’s history. The enormity of this task is not lost on me, and I am deeply moved and honoured by the trust that Member States and Executive Board members have bestowed upon me. Mālō ‘aupito. Thank you very much.

“And while this is a moment of pride for our Pacific people, I want to assure you that I will be a Regional Director for all Member States.”

Dr Piukala’s road map for his first 100 days in office includes plans to visit many of the 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region, engage with governments and other stakeholders, listen and discuss critical issues that impact health, and explore areas for increased collaboration.

First Regional Director from the Pacific

Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala is the first Pacific islander to become Regional Director.

He is a politician, public health leader and surgeon with nearly 30 years of experience working in Tonga and across the Pacific.

He is a champion of multisectoral collaboration to tackle NCDs and health threats posed by climate change.

He has led initiatives to achieve universal health coverage and address emerging infectious diseases.

He has been a strong advocate for youth health, tobacco control, safe surgery, and disaster preparedness and response.

Key Priorities for the Western Pacific Region

Under Dr Piukala’s leadership, the Organization aims to strengthen health care in the Western Pacific by integrating efforts to achieve transformational primary health care and universal health coverage. This will help to address the leading causes of disease and mortality in the Region, including noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and chronic respiratory illnesses, together account for nearly nine out of 10 deaths in the Region.

The new Regional Director will also focus efforts on healthy ageing and actions to address mental health and oral health, as well as maternal and child health, immunisation and communicable disease prevention and control. WHO in the Region will also leverage health technology to address inequities, including potential entry points for private sector engagement.

Accelerating action on climate change, the environment and health is another major focus for Dr Piukala. His administration will review current initiatives and identify new opportunities to support country efforts. A cross-cutting, integrated strategy will be developed, and engagement with internal and external stakeholders intensified to enable new technical and diplomatic mechanisms for accelerating action on climate change and health.

He will ensure strong support to countries and areas of the Western Pacific for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. This includes engagement in global processes underway to develop and ratify a new international “Pandemic Accord”, and make needed changes to the International Health Regulations.

In addition, Dr Piukala will align WHO’s workstreams in the Region with those in WHO headquarters, take stock of efforts to strengthen workplace culture and staff well-being and manage change with an eye towards streamlining operations, enabling greater efficiency and bolstering progress towards the public health goals of countries and areas in the Region.

The Role of the WHO in the Western Pacific

The World Health Organization (WHO) plays a crucial role in the Western Pacific, similar to its global mission of promoting health, keeping the world safe, and serving the vulnerable. In the Western Pacific, the WHO’s activities are tailored to address the specific health challenges and needs of the region.

Health Policies and Systems Strengthening

The WHO works with countries in the region to strengthen their healthcare systems. This involves improving healthcare infrastructure, ensuring adequate staffing, and enhancing the quality of healthcare services.

Disease Surveillance and Response

The organisation plays a pivotal role in monitoring and responding to disease outbreaks. It helps in setting up surveillance systems, providing technical expertise during outbreaks, and coordinating international responses when needed.

Health Education and Promotion

The WHO conducts various programs to educate the public about health issues, promoting healthier lifestyles and preventing diseases. This includes campaigns on nutrition, physical activity, tobacco control, and mental health.

Technical Assistance and Capacity Building

The WHO provides expert advice and technical assistance to help countries in the region deal with complex health challenges. This includes support for research, training of healthcare professionals, and development of evidence-based policies.

Access to Medicines and Health Technologies

The organisation works to ensure that people in the Western Pacific have access to essential medicines and health technologies. This involves supporting local production, improving supply chains, and ensuring quality and safety.

Emergency Preparedness and Response

The WHO assists countries in preparing for health emergencies like natural disasters, pandemics, and other crises. This includes helping to develop emergency response plans, providing supplies and equipment, and offering on-ground support during emergencies.

Collaboration and Partnerships

The WHO collaborates with various stakeholders, including governments, international organisations, NGOs, and the private sector, to address health challenges in the region comprehensively.

Addressing Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)

The organisation is also focused on combating NCDs like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, which are a growing concern in the region. Efforts include promoting healthier lifestyles, improving healthcare services, and advocating for policies that address the root causes of these diseases.

The Western Pacific is a diverse region with varying health needs, and the WHO’s activities are crucial in addressing these needs, improving health outcomes, and enhancing the quality of life for people in the region.

More on the WHO

Working with 194 Member States across six regions, WHO is the United Nations (UN) specialised agency responsible for public health. The most senior representative of the Organization in each region is the Regional Director.

They provide leadership, strengthen governance, and foster partnership and collaboration with Member States, other UN agencies, partners and stakeholders to fulfil WHO’s mandate of improving health outcomes.

The WHO Western Pacific Region is home to more than 1.9 billion people across Asia and the Pacific.

Countries and areas of the Western Pacific Region are Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Fiji, France (which has responsibility for French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Wallis and Futuna), Hong Kong SAR (China), Japan, Kiribati, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Macao SAR (China), Malaysia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia (the Federated States of), Mongolia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (which has responsibility for Pitcairn Islands), the United States of America (which has responsibility for American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam), Vanuatu and Viet Nam.