Shared Vision for Health in the Pacific – WHO Regional Director Visits Samoa

(L-R) Acting Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa and WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai
(L-R) Acting Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa and WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai

APIA, Samoa, 2 April 2019 Government Press Secretariat Office: Author – Nanai Laveitiga Tuiletufuga – On his first trip to Samoa since beginning his five year tenure as World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai met this week with Samoan leaders, health workers and members of the community.

Dr Kasai made this trip early in his tenure to discuss a shared vision for health in the Pacific, and to understand the unique challenges and opportunities facing Samoa’s health sector. A key focus of his visit was to explore how WHO and the Samoan Government can work together in new and innovative ways, to overcome challenges and maximize opportunities, such as the recent merger of Samoa’s National Health Service and the Ministry of Health.

“My visit has confirmed that the challenges we face as a Region – and which will be the focus of our work over the next five years – are relevant to Samoa, including the high burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), the impact of climate change on health, and the ever-present threat of disasters and outbreaks”, said Dr Kasai.

In addition to hearing about the health challenges, Dr Kasai saw and heard about the progress Samoa is making. “The merging of the National Health Service and Ministry of Health is an opportunity to strengthen primary health care and build on innovations like PEN Fa’a Samoa. In fact PEN Fa’a Samoa has given us hints for how we might work to strengthen primary health care and prevent NCDs elsewhere.”

He visited Lufilufi Health Centre, Poutasi District Hospital, and Sa’anapu Health Clinic where he met the women’s committee – the driving force behind PEN Fa’a Samoa.

Dr Kasai also met with hospital management and clinical staff at the Tupua Tamasese Mea’ole (TTM) Hospital in Apia. He was impressed with the range of services available at TTM, which need to be paired with strong primary health care at the community level. Prevention and early intervention will improve people’s health and take the load off the hospital to maintain and further strengthen the quality of its wide range of services.

Dr Kasai committed WHO’s support to Samoa’s efforts to strengthen primary health care, building on PEN Fa’a Samoa. He looks forward to seeing how it can be rolled-out nationwide, and to subsequent visits.

Dr Kasai’s visit coincided with a global surge in measles cases.

In light of this, and the gaps in immunization coverage linked with the suspension of the MMR vaccine following the deaths of two babies in July of last year, Dr Kasai also encouraged the Government to restart immunization as soon as possible.

“After these tragic deaths, the Government launched a thorough investigation into what went wrong. They have since taken measures to strengthen processes and systems so that an event like this doesn’t happen again,” said Dr Kasai.

Dr Kasai met with the Honourable Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable Minister of Health, the Associate Minister of Health and the Director-General/CEO of the Ministry of Health, as well as the diplomatic corps.

WHO Regional Director Dr Takeshi Kasai with the Honourable Minister of Health Afioga Tuitama Dr Leao Talalelei Tuitama
WHO Regional Director Dr Takeshi Kasai with the Honourable Minister of Health Afioga Tuitama Dr Leao Talalelei Tuitama

Dr Kasai began a five-year term as the seventh WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific on 1 February 2019.

WHO’s Division of Pacific Technical Support was established in 2010 to provide tailored, timely support to the 21 Pacific island countries and territories in its area of responsibility. Its main office is in Suva, Fiji, and the Division has six other offices across the region, including in the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Countries and areas of the WHO Western Pacific Region: 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 (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.