Tonga and Solomon Islands make bid for WHO Regional Director post

Tonga and Solomon Islands have nominated medical experts for the position of World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Tonga has nominated Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala, and Solomon Islands has put forward Dr Jimmie Rodgers.

The two Pacific Island candidates will be vying for the post against fellow physicians Song Li of China, Susan Mercado of Philippines, and Tran Thi Gian Huong of Vietnam.

Dr Rodgers is a former Director General of the Pacific Community (SPC) and current Secretary to the Prime Minister. He has been at the forefront of preparations for the upcoming Pacific Games.

“We believe Dr Rodgers fully meets the qualifications and characteristics, personal commitment, and skills required for a candidate nominated for the post of regional director,” said Solomons Minister of Health and Medical Services, Dr Culwick Togamana.

He added that Dr Rodgers is passionate about sustainable development, particularly in rural regions, as a consequence of his own experiences in medicine and government administration.

Dr Rodgers has helped to shape a variety of regional development processes and projects, including the Pacific Plan. In 2004, he was a member of the Reflection Group for the Pacific Islands Forum’s Eminent Persons’ Assessment, and in 2005, he conducted an assessment of the Fiji School of Medicine.

Meanwhile, Fekitamoela ‘Utoikamanu of Tonga’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs notes that Tonga’s nominee, Dr Piukala, is very interested in population and development issues, particularly those concerning youth and health.

Dr Piukala spearheaded Tonga’s reaction to the Hunga-Tonga-Ha’apai volcanic eruption and accompanying tsunamis as well as being responsible for Tonga’s high COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Working with 194 Member States across six regions, WHO is the United Nations specialized agency responsible for public health. The WHO Western Pacific Region is home to more than 1.9 billion people.

The Regional Committee for the Western Pacific is composed of ministers of health and senior officials from the countries and areas of the region. They meet annually to agree on health actions and chart priorities for the work of WHO. Every fifth year, the Region’s Member States vote to nominate the Regional Director—the most senior representative of the Organization in each of the six WHO regions.

The nomination will be submitted for appointment in the 154th session of the WHO Executive Board, which will be held from January 22 to 27, 2024, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The new regional director will take office on February 1, 2024, for a five-year term and will only be eligible for a single reappointment.