Technical workshops of the Pacific Islands countries on reaching the unreached for TB/HIV/STI

November 14, 2022

The Officer-in-Charge WHO Representative and Director Pacific Technical Support, Fiji Dr. Nuha Mahmoud

Dr. Frank Underwood, Chair of the Pacific Islands Regional Multi-Country Coordinating Mechanism,

Distinguished delegates from our 12 Pacific Island countries,

Colleagues from WHO Headquarters in Geneva and Manila,

Invited guests,

Colleagues and friends,

Bula vinaka and a warm welcome to you.

I am delighted to be here this morning to give the keynote address at this workshop. Let me also say how exciting it is to welcome you all to Fiji. It is indeed a pleasure to welcome all of you here. I hope you enjoy your stay.

I also welcome WHO representatives and facilitators from the WHO Head Quarters in Geneva and WHO Western Pacific Office in Manilla to Fiji. I thank you for agreeing to facilitate the regional TB/HIV workshop. A special thank you to Dr. Subhash from the WHO Pacific Office in Suva for coordinating the facilitation of this regional workshop.

The reason for our coming here today is clear. We have a fundamental role in development and we want to deliver on this to enhance understanding, awareness and responsibility in shaping a future that is sustainable, happy and prosperous for all. Many Pacific Island Countries (PICs) have achieved remarkable progress on many health targets, including many communicable diseases and child and maternal health.  However, progress has not equally benefited everyone, and some population groups remain left behind in most countries, even those with robust health systems. The disruption to the delivery of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic further impeded the progress towards achieving health targets, particularly for unreached groups.

Ladies and gentlemen, the objective of this workshop is to provide you all with latest developments and recommendations on improving treatment, care and support to people living with disease and most at risk population. Also provide technical support to strengthen the implementation of HIV and TB program including strengthening of PSM (Procurement and Supply Management) and laboratory systems in PICs. 

Despite the success achieved in reducing the mortality and morbidity of TB over the years, TB remains a public health issue worldwide. The Western Pacific Region accounts for 18 percent of the Global TB burden. TB remains a significant public health challenge, including missing cases, drug-resistant TB, a huge pool of latent TB, slow uptake of innovations, and lack of multi-sectoral action to address the catastrophic costs faced by TB patients and their families.

I am here today because I am also a strong supporter of health and well-being. Health is the biggest wealth for all of us in our entire lifetime. We can see that there is an ever-growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCD) among the general population, which is a significant risk factor for TB disease. In contrast, other risk factors like, alcohol, air pollution, malnutrition, and tobacco also need to be addressed.

As the world comes together to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to ensure that essential services and operations for dealing with long-standing health problems continue to protect the lives of people with TB and other diseases or health conditions in the region. The PICs are also severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is an urgent need to revitalise the services, reaching the unreached population and targeting risk factors for TB.

Furthermore, in order to get the world on track to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 and accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 3 on good health and well-being.

Ladies and Gentlemen, over 75 million people have become infected with HIV, and over 32 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the global AIDS epidemic. Despite the low number of HIV cases in the Pacific Region, there is urgent and transformative action required to end the social, economic, racial, and gender inequalities, restrictive and discriminatory laws, policies and practices, stigma, and multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including human rights violations that perpetuate the global AIDS epidemic.

It is critical to build back better, more equitably, and inclusively from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the global AIDS epidemic and build resilience against future pandemics and other global health and development challenges and continue to leverage the investments and experience of the HIV response to enhance public health further and strengthen health systems.

This calls for a more precise focus to reach the people most affected and at risk for TB and HIV and to address inequities. This will promote synergies under a universal health coverage and primary health care framework and contribute to achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Policy initiatives must be translated into enhanced standards of care by providing quality services and improving patient access to these services. Thus, continuous technical support must be provided to PICs in implementing services according to the latest guidelines and best practices.

In this juncture, let me say that this workshop is an opportunity to share experiences, update with new recommendations, and build capacity to overcome the challenge of achieving the END TB Strategy and Global AIDS Strategy targets for 2025 and 2030.

To my colleagues from around the Pacific and WHO, UNDP has modestly invested in bringing you across the seas to Fiji to interact on the technical workshop of the pacific islands and countries on reaching the unreached for TB/ HIV.

Please make the best opportunity of what this workshop has to offer since your respective countries have placed faith in your nomination to make a productive contribution at the workshop and contribute towards the control of TB and HIV back in your country.

With the technical support from WHO, I am confident this workshop will make a formidable partnership, and the participants will enjoy a great global wealth of experience.

I wish to take this moment to acknowledge WHO, who we have worked with on multiple intervention areas over the years, one of which is the area of TB and HIV. The funding support from Global Fund to UNDP under the Multi-Country Western Pacific Integrated HIV/ TB Programme has provided an opportunity to engage and partner with regional partners such as WHO and Ministries of Health. I believe it is critical and imperatively strategic that such partnership intervention is sustained in the region, given the complexities and subtleties of working in the Pacific region.

I wish to thank WHO representatives, facilitators, and Ministries of Health representatives for being here today, which is a testament to an extension of the mutual partnership and one that will take us to the future.

With these words, I declare the workshop open and wish you every success!

Thank you and vinaka vakalevu.