On 26 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board in Geneva appointed Dr Takeshi Kasai as its regional director for the Western Pacific region. He began his 5-year term on 1 February, replacing Dr Shin Young-soo and becoming the fifth director of the region.
The Western Pacific region comprises nearly 1.9 billion people, from East Asia and the Pacific Island countries to Australasia. Dr Kasai has pledged to work hard in his new role to help these people face public health challenges: “For more than seven decades, countries have counted on WHO to work with them to solve a variety of public health challenges. My predecessor, Dr Shin Young-soo, transformed WHO in this Region, making it more people-centered and country-oriented. We must continue to evolve as an organisation – building on past accomplishments while being closely attuned to new realities on the ground.”
A career in public health
Dr Kasai is a Japanese national and physician by training, with a public health career spanning back nearly 30 years. He started out as posted in a remote area of Northeast Japan where he provided health services for the elderly. There, he learned first-hand the value of a grassroots approach.
The new Regional Director has worked for WHO for over 15 years, including as WHO representative for Viet Nam and most recently as a deputy to former regional director Dr Shin Young-soo.
Priorities for the new term
Dr Kasai’s term will last from 2019 to 2024, and he has promised to focus on three main health challenges: health security, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and ageing, and the environment and climate change.
In the Western Pacific, NCDs such as cancer and diabetes are becoming increasingly problematic, along with the issue of ageing populations. NCDs are the leading cause of death and disability in the region.
“We 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,” said Dr Kasai.
On top of this, the region, and particularly Pacific island countries, is already feeling the drastic effects of climate change. In places such as Kiribati and the Marhsall Islands, rising sea levels threaten people’s very existence, with rising sea levels predicted to wash away entire islands in the coming decades.
While these challenges are significant, Dr Kasai remains optimistic that they can be overcome: “These are huge challenges that we must face together, but they are not insurmountable,” he said. “And while the future will bring new challenges, at the same time it is full of opportunity – as innovation and new technology make things possible that we couldn’t even imagine not so long ago.”
World Health Organization: Dr Takeshi Kasai appointed WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific
World Health Organization: WHO appoints directors for Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions