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WHO Launches Vital New Book

WHO Launches Vital New Book at Crunch Time for Public Health

KUALA LUMPUR, 11 December 2008— The World Health Organization (WHO) today launched a major new publication designed to give governments in Asia and the Pacific the information they need to strengthen their health systems and to provide better care for their people, especially the poor and vulnerable populations.

The book, Health in Asia and the Pacific, was launched at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur attended by the Malaysian Health Minister, Datuk Liow Tiong Lai; the WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Dr Samlee Plianbangchang; and the WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shigeru Omi.

The 600-page book warns that rising inequalities, both across and within countries, will worsen the situation of the poor, who are already more vulnerable to serious health risks than the better-off members of society.

Jointly produced by WHO’s South-East Asia and the Western Pacific Regions, the book covers the 48 WHO countries and areas in the two regions, summarizing progress made so far in health, highlighting differences and similarities, and identifying obstacles to achieving good health.

“Despite evidence of the growing gap between the well-off and the underprivileged, there is little data on how to address these inequities,” said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang. “The aim of this book is to provide governments with the information they need to strengthen their health systems. Health systems and programmes in both developed and developing countries will need to cope with chronic

diseases of older persons and new health and welfare issues that could pose overwhelming problems in the near future."

The book, which took over two years to complete, takes in the whole of the Asia Pacific Region, ranging from China and Mongolia in the north to Australia and New Zealand in the south, and from the Maldives in the Indian Ocean to French Polynesia and the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific, including some of the most industrialized nations on earth and some of the least developed. The combined population of the two WHO regions is 3.45 billion people, representing 53% of the world's total.

Dr Shigeru Omi said that many health systems in the Region have lost their focus on equitable access to care and in meeting the needs and expectations of the people, especially the poor and marginalized groups. “A greater focus on primary health care could help alleviate this situation by increasing the efficiency of health systems and improving access and responsiveness,” he said.

Dr Omi urged countries to urgently infuse sufficient financial resources into health systems to ensure better coverage and a higher quality of care. “How resources are used is equally important, as gains in health status in the Region tend to cover up social and health inequalities,” he added.

Summarizing the situation in the two WHO Regions, the book catalogues some formidable challenges. These include:

• Inequalities in health care are widening across and within countries.

• The two regions have the world’s highest number of households driven into poverty by the need to pay for health care at a time of service.

• The populations covered also have the highest dependence globally on out-of-pocket expenditure to finance health care.

• There is an overall shortage of health workers, with the fewest health workers often found where health needs are greatest.

• Access to and availability of essential drugs are limited, while irrational drug use, increasing antimicrobial resistance and high prevalence of counterfeit and substandard drugs pose serious health risks.

WHO has stressed that much work remains to be done to ensure health systems in the two regions are better able to respond to the health challenges presented by declining fertility, longer life expectancy and ageing populations.


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