These are just some of the many public health milestones that we should be proud of as people in the Pacific. These successes are a testament to what we can achieve if we all –leaders, health workers, volunteers, communities, partners and donors – work together towards common health goals
Suva, Fiji and Nuku’alofa, Tonga, 7 April 2023
The Tongan Ministry of Health, the Pacific Community (SPC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are jointly celebrating the 75th anniversary of WHO, marking 75 years of multilateral partnership resulting in increased access to lifesaving healthcare and improved health in the Pacific. While celebrating this milestone, the three organizations are calling on countries and partners to build on this progress and work together to tackle remaining health challenges in the Pacific.
“We must remember that this is the world’s health organization and WHO’s work is an enormous collaborative effort led by the Organization’s 194 member countries with the support of many partners and individuals across the globe. So all of us have a reason to celebrate WHO’s 75th birthday,” said the Honourable Health Minister of Tonga, Dr Saia Ma'u Piukala. “Let’s take this opportunity to recognize the 75 years of progress made in public health in the Pacific and look at how we can build upon our successes to deliver better health in future.”
Over the past 75 years, Pacific island countries and areas (PICs) have made tremendous progress in health, in collaboration with WHO, SPC and other partners in the region. Some of these successes include:
- The elimination of yaws in all except three PICs, following extensive control efforts in the 1950s and 1960s
- Wiping out endemic poliomyelitis (polio), with the last case of indigenous wild poliovirus in the Pacific reported in 1989
- Signing of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control by all PICs by 2006
- The elimination of trachoma in Vanuatu in 2022
- The establishment or strengthening of national public health laboratories so that, by 2022, all PICs had testing capacity for COVID-19 and other diseases
- 15 PICs achieved or surpassed COVID-19 vaccination rates of over 70% of their entire populations by end of March 2023
- An increase in the total number of doctors by 119%, nurses by 14% and midwives by 48% in the Pacific over the past decade
“These are just some of the many public health milestones that we should be proud of as people in the Pacific. These successes are a testament to what we can achieve if we all –leaders, health workers, volunteers, communities, partners and donors – work together towards common health goals,” said Dr Mark Jacobs, WHO Representative to the South Pacific and Director of WHO’s Division of Pacific Technical Support.
The Pacific set a powerful example of visionary leadership and collective spirit through the establishment of the ground-breaking Healthy Islands vision in Yanuca, Fiji in 1995. Pacific health leaders re-affirmed this commitment in 2015. That same year, PICs were among the 191 United Nations Member States that committed to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by year 2030, including SDG 3 on good health and well-being and other cross-cutting goals that relate and contribute to health.
While successes have been achieved in important areas of health, progress towards the realization of the Healthy Islands vision and the SDGs has been uneven in the Pacific. This is particularly true for the hardest to reach populations such as those living in remote mountain villages or on distant outer islands. In addition, people in the region now face the triple burden of noncommunicable diseases, communicable diseases, and the rising health impacts of climate change.
This year’s Pacific Health Ministers Meeting, hosted by Tonga with support from WHO and SPC, will be an important opportunity to bring PICs and partners together and drive further action to achieve better health. The meeting, due to be held in September, will focus on increasing health system resilience, strengthening the health workforce, upgrading health information systems, and tackling obesity.
“On behalf of the Pacific Community, I extend my warmest congratulations to WHO on their 75th anniversary,” said Dr Paula Vivili, Deputy Director General (Science and Capability) at SPC. “For decades, we have enjoyed a productive partnership with WHO in supporting Pacific Island countries to advance health and well-being in the region. As we look to the future, we remain committed to working hand-in-hand with WHO towards achieving Health for All in the Pacific.”
WHO’s Constitution was adopted during the International Health Conference held in New York from 19 June to 22 July 1946. It was signed by 61 Member States on 22 July 1946 and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
In 1956, a WHO office was established in Sydney, Australia, to work with countries and areas in the South Pacific. In 1965, that office was relocated to Fiji. In 2010, WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific established the Division of Pacific Technical Support in Suva, Fiji, to coordinate and provide tailored and responsive support to 21 Pacific Islands countries and areas.
“As WHO turns 75, we would like to assure our Member States and partners that we remain steadfast in our commitment to a healthier future for everyone, everywhere in the Pacific,” continued Dr Jacobs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is the United Nation’s specialized agency for international public health. In the Pacific, WHO’s Division of Pacific Technical Support (DPS) provides tailored, timely support to 21 Pacific island countries and areas. Our main office is in Suva, Fiji, and the Division has six other offices across the region: The Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.
The Pacific Community has been supporting sustainable development in the Pacific, through science, knowledge, and innovation since 1947. It is the principal intergovernmental organisation in the region, owned and governed by its 27 member countries and territories.
Dr ‘Ofa Tukia, Senior Medical Officer, Tonga Ministry of Health | otukia [at] gmail.com
Lauren O’Connor, Technical Officer for Communications, Resource Mobilization & External Relations , WHO Division of Pacific Technical Support | oconnorl [at] who.int
Evlyn Mani, Communications officer, Public Health Division, Pacific Community (SPC) | evlynm [at] spc.int