The World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board today confirmed the appointment of Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala of Tonga as WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
Following his confirmation, Dr Piukala addressed the Executive Board: “Today, I stand before you as the first Regional Director from the Pacific in WHO’s history. The enormity of this task is not lost on me, and I am deeply moved and honoured by the trust that Member States and Executive Board members have bestowed upon me. Mālō ‘aupito. Thank you very much. And while this is a moment of pride for our Pacific people, I want to assure you that I will be a Regional Director for all Member States.”
“We all have our own stories, and reflecting upon where I came from. I find it such a blessing that I was once a barefoot boy running around the beaches of my small island, and I now stand among public health giants at the World Health Organization,” he said. “This is proof that no one is really left behind, and despite our different stories, we all have something to contribute.”
“I look forward to working closely with Member States, the Director-General, Dr Tedros, my fellow Regional Directors and country offices to fulfil the programme of work and ensure WHO is successful. Let us work for a world where no barefoot child, looking out at a rising sea, needs to worry about what the future holds for his or her health, and the health of their family,” he added.
“I congratulate Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala on his appointment as WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. I look forward to working closely with Dr Piukala to promote and protect the health of people across the Region,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala is the first Pacific islander to become Regional Director. He is a politician, public health leader and surgeon with nearly 30 years of experience working in Tonga and across the Pacific.
Prior to his election as Regional Director, Dr Piukala was a Member of Parliament (since 2014) and the Minister of Health of the Kingdom of Tonga (2014−2019; 2021−2024). He led the country’s response to the undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami in 2022, as well as COVID-19 preparedness and response, resulting in high vaccination coverage and one of the lowest case fatality rates in the world (less than 0.1%), the WHO in a statement said.
Dr Piukala’s road map for his first 100 days in office includes plans to visit many of the 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region, engage with governments and other stakeholders, listen and discuss critical issues that impact health, and explore areas for increased collaboration.
One of the many critical issues is addressing the leading causes of disease and mortality in the Region, including noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and chronic respiratory illnesses, together account for nearly nine out of 10 deaths in the Region.