31 Jan 2019

Pacific urged to prepare for threat of pandemic

10:12 am on 31 January 2019

The new regional director for the World Health Organisation says the Pacific must prepare for the threat of a pandemic from re-emerging diseases.

Takeshi Kasai.

Takeshi Kasai. Photo: Supplied / Takeshi Kasai.

Takeshi Kasai said populations are ageing, and NCDs - such as heart disease and diabetes - are already the leading cause of death in the Western Pacific.

Dr Kasai said the WHO doesn't know when or where the next pandemic will arise but it will happen.

He said all countries must be prepared, regardless of their size or stage of development.

"We cannot stand still because our regions are extremely dynamic and it's rapidly changing economically, socially and environmentally. If we wanted to stay relevant and then valuable, we must be also ahead of the curve. Innovations and new technologies make things possible."

Dr Kasai said the island nations must develop new approaches that go beyond advocacy and training, including developing health systems that can effectively address the challenges posed by NCDs as more people are growing old with one or more chronic conditions.

He said environmental issues, associated with rapid economic development, also posed a threat with more than two million people in the region dying annually from indoor and outdoor air pollution.

"Climate change threatens their very existence as rising sea levels risk washing away entire islands and atolls," Dr Kasai said. "Some of the challenges we face are are great but they are not insurmountable.

Dr Kasai succeeds Shin Young-soo and says he plans to make the WHO more responsive to the region's needs in a "world where rapid economic, environmental and social changes are affecting the lives and health of the region's nearly 1.9billion people".

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs