THE Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Awang Haji Zulkarnain bin Haji Hanafi attended the 68th session of the World Health Organization Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Brisbane, Australia which was held from October 9-13.
Health ministers and representatives from 37 countries and areas within the Western Pacific Region convene annually at the Regional Committee Meeting to discuss priorities and actions that will bring better health to the population of the world.
The 68th session this year saw the attendance of Dr Tedros Adhanum Ghebreyesus, the new Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Dr Shin Young-soo, the Regional Director of the Western Pacific Regional Office, who gave their respective remarks.
During the meeting, the Minister of Health as Brunei Darussalam’s head of delegation shared that the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) remains a national priority, and Brunei Darussalam will continue the existing collaboration with the Western Pacific Regional Office.
He highlighted that successful collaboration is measured on how the action plans can be translated into real change to improve the health and wellbeing of the population.
The minister emphasised that NCDs must also be deemed a high priority issue for WHO leadership going forward, particularly in supporting the strengthening of regulatory and legal framework for prevention and control of NCDs.
The meeting also discussed matters related to food safety and ways to protect children from the harmful impact of food marketing. Brunei Darussalam expressed the view that this issue demands urgent response and action from regional and international agencies due to the trans-boundary nature of the food industry, digitisation of marketing campaigns and increasing movement of goods, services, information and people across national borders.
Brunei offered its support for initiatives addressing these issues and said that the enormous power of media companies and online technology industries also needs to be taken into account in their ability to act as an agent in strengthening health literacy among the public.
Brunei also expressed hope that WHO can support in providing a longer term view of the issues surrounding food consumption.
Conventional definitions of food safety must be broadened to encompass more than just the immediate effects of consumption such as food poisoning but to also take into account long term effects such as weight gain leading to obesity.
The meeting also discussed issues relating to public health emergencies. Brunei Darussalam reiterated its continuous support towards ensuring a resilient health system that is able to absorb the shock of a public health emergency and stated that it will continue to provide essential regular health care. This means that emergency preparedness cannot be seen as something to be conducted in silo, but must be integrated within the overall health system.
Also on the agenda at the Regional Committee Meeting were topics on Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, Gender and Health and Health Promotion.
During the session, the Brunei delegation had a meeting with Greg Hunt, Minister for Health and Minister for Sport, Australia.
Among others, the meeting discussed opportunities to learn from Australia’s best experiences in terms of multi-sectorial approach in improving the population’s health in relation to NCDs and behavioural insights to change people’s lifestyle towards healthy living.
The delegation also discussed possible collaboration with Australia in areas related to healthier and safe food environment.
The delegation also had a bilateral meeting with Dr Yasuhiro Suzuki, Japan’s Vice-Minister for Health. On a separate occasion, the delegation also had a meeting with Dr Shin Young-soo.
While in Brisbane, the Brunei Darussalam delegation conducted a dialogue session with Bruneian medical doctors who are currently undergoing training in various hospitals and medical institutions in Queensland, Australia.
Also attending the series of meetings were Haji Zakaria bin Haji Ahmad, High Commissioner of Brunei Darussalam to Australia, Haji Zakaria bin Haji Serudin, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, and other officials from the Ministry of Health and the High Commission of Brunei Darussalam in Australia.