"I feel honoured that we are hosting the 31st Health Ministers Meeting, where Health Ministers from the 11 countries of this Region - Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste - would be discussing the key health issues and challenges facing the Region," said President Mukherjee in his speech at the joint inaugural session of the 31st meeting of Ministers of Health and 66th session of the WHO regional committee for South-East Asia.
"This international platform at the regional level is crucial for this region since it houses 1.79 billion people, which is 26.4 percent of the global population. 46pc of the population in this region is living below poverty line. A significant portion of the disease burden in this region, more than 28 percent, arises from communicable diseases, maternal and perinatal conditions and nutritional deficiencies which are closely knitted with poverty.
President Mukherjee said the data also reveals that South East Asia Region has more than 27 percent of global disease burden due to Non-Communicable Diseases which indicates the increasing prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases in the region.
"It is also a matter of concern that South East Asia region registers the lowest total expenditure on health as a percentage of gross domestic product (3.8 percent) and per capita total expenditure on health as per World Health Statistics 2009, with 84.4 percent out of pocket expenditure," said President Mukherjee.
"In this background, I am sure that the meeting of the Health Ministers of the region followed by the session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia would map the way forward for the entire Region, and would throw up broad agreements and the desired joint commitment on important initiatives and strategies," he added.
President Mukherjee, however, said this needs a multi-dimensional approach on part of the respective Governments.
"I am happy to note that the agenda for these two events include most of the health issues in the Region warranting serious discussion and immediate interventions thereupon," he added.
President Mukherjee said it is a matter of some satisfaction that due to the ongoing systematic efforts of the countries in the region as well as the WHO support, several of them are on track to reach the majority of health related Millennium Development Goals.
"These efforts have led to some remarkable achievements like the eradication of polio, eradication of smallpox, improvement in life-expectancy and reduction in infant and maternal mortality rates. However, the situation is not uniform in all countries of the region. Some countries are still lagging far behind and would require much more efforts as well as resources to achieve the health related Millennium Development Goals," he added.
President Mukherjee said that as the 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals approaches, there is wide debate as to what development goals the global community should set next.
"The United Nations has already appointed a High-level Panel to advise on the global development agenda beyond 2015. In support of this process, the United Nations Development Group is also leading efforts to catalyse a "global conversation" on the post-2015 agenda through a series of global thematic consultations," said President Mukherjee.
"Thus, this may be the ideal time for the Ministers of Health of the Region to debate on this imperative issue, keeping region-specific preferences in context," he added.
President Mukherjee said an ideal healthcare delivery system should be accessible to all in the Region.
"Considering the current lack of access to quality healthcare at an affordable cost for the majority of the population in the Region, the proposed universal health coverage seems to be a very plausible solution," said President Mukherjee.
"However, evidence indicates that two areas cause significant inequities and inefficiencies in health in the Region: first, direct out-of-pocket payments for access to care that can push households into poverty; and, second, a significant proportion of these payments go towards the purchase of medicines," he added.
President Mukherjee said it is important that the countries in the Region strengthen their health systems based on the primary health care approach - focusing on public health including prevention and promotion activities; using appropriate technologies; and based on domestic resources as far as possible.
He said Strategic investments in medical education and training would be needed to enhance the availability of scientifically credible professionals for all communities.
"The existing inefficiencies in the supply chain and logistics management of drugs and vaccines should also be addressed on a priority basis. Strengthening of institutional mechanisms for community participation in oversight and governance of health at multiple levels - rural and urban - would also be crucial," he added.
President Mukherjee said non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of mortality globally and in the Region.
"Each year around 7.9 million people die due to non-communicable diseases accounting for 55 percent of all deaths in the Region. It seems appropriate that besides adopting the nine global voluntary targets, a detailed Regional Action Plan is drawn and strictly adhered to in order to control this epidemic," President Mukherjee said.
"The world has been implementing the International Health Regulations - IHR (2005) since 2007. This legally-binding agreement significantly contributes to global public health security by providing a new framework for the coordination of the management of events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern, and will improve the capacity of all countries to detect, assess, notify and respond to public health threats," he added.
President Mukherjee further said it is important for all the countries in the Region to discuss the developments in this regard and to ensure that they meet the IHR core surveillance and response requirements.
"In the end, I sincerely hope that these sessions would contribute significantly towards an improved healthcare environment in the Region.
Before I conclude, let me again wish you a memorable and enjoyable stay in New Delhi and successful deliberations," he added.
--ANI (Posted on 10-09-2013)