From 10-14 October 2016, the World Heart Federation joined Ministers of Health and other key stakeholders in Manila, Philippines, for the 67th Committee Meeting of the WHO’s Western Pacific Region.
The WHO Regional Office of the Western Pacific (WHO WPRO) is made up of 37 countries and areas, representing approximately 1.8 billion people – or one-quarter of the world’s population. Each year, the Regional Committee Meeting convenes to allow leading figures in global health to discuss and act on pressing health issues affecting the Western Pacific.
The World Heart Federation (WHF) was represented at the meeting by Ms Joanna Markbreiter (Policy & Advocacy Manager, WHF) and Dr Marian Abouzeid (Epidemiological Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Telethon Kids Institute). Together, they advocated for improved cardiovascular health in the region, and urged Ministers of Health to support emerging national, regional and global policy and research efforts on rheumatic heart disease.

Heart Disease Highlights

WHO WPRO started the meeting in true heart-healthy style, by announcing that they would ‘walk the talk’ and discontinue the provision of sugary drinks on their smoke-free campus throughout the meeting. WHO staff also kept delegates active, by leading them in energetic 5-minute dance workouts between the meeting sessions, to lower the risk of heart disease and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
NCDs were also discussed within the meeting itself. Outgoing Chairperson Mr James Gillam (Director, Department of Public Health, Guam) opened the sessions by reminding participants that ‘the overwhelming burden of NCDs still haunts us, especially in this Region’. Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO also raised her concerns that there are 6.2 million overweight or obese children in the Western Pacific, and that 8 of the world’s 10 fattest countries are Pacific Island States.

Over the course of the four-day meeting, several Ministers of Health raised their concerns about NCDs. Singapore drew attention to its success in tackling diabetes and other NCDs. Hong Kong presented its Strategic Framework for NCDs, which includes ambitious work towards a smoke-free culture. Samoa spoke about its adaption of the WHO PEN Package for NCDs, and how working collaboratively has brought about success in tackling hypertension.
However, it was Tonga who proved the strongest NCD champion, suggesting the creation of a dedicated Pacific funding mechanism for NCD prevention and control, and requesting the WHO to make NCDs a standing item for discussion at every WPRO Regional Committee Meeting in the future. 
World Heart Federation Statements
The WHF prepared three statements for the WPRO Regional Committee Meeting. Statements on essential medicines and the Sustainable Development Goals were submitted in writing to Ministers of Health, while a statement on healthy newborn infants was spoken directly to delegates as part of the meeting.

WHF’s statement focused on the impact of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) on mothers and babies in the region, which can be devastating: 17% of maternal deaths are indirect, the vast majority from cardiovascular disease including RHD.  To reduce this burden, the WHF recommended that Ministers of Health prioritised awareness-raising of RHD, supported family planning, and invested in registers and data collection to tackle the issue.

Unusually, the WHO Secretariat were moved to respond directly to this statement, saying: ‘We acknowledge the comment made by WHF on the importance of RHD. This is becoming increasingly important and a concern and issue made by Member States, showing the fine line between communicable disease and NCDs, and the importance of taking a life-course approach in our public health programmes.’
The WHF is thrilled that WHO WPRO is acknowledging this under-represented heart disease, and looks forward to building on the progress and contacts made at the WHO WPRO Regional Committee meeting as it moves forward.
Look out for more updates on WHF’s advocacy at the WHO Regional Meetings via Twitter, Members’ News and our website.