WHO vote today: 2 Pacific Islanders in the mix

WHO assembly

Western Pacific members of the World Health Organization are meeting this week, and today they will be voting to nominate the next WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

There are two Pacific Island nominees in the mix, Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala from Tonga and Dr Jimmie Rodgers, current secretary to the prime minister of Solomon Islands.

“Staff that are content, that are happy, excited with the workplace, know their roles are respected, valued — they work better and they will deliver,” said Rodgers in a recent public forum that enabled WHO members to question the five candidates for the role.

Dr Piukala, the current minister of health of Tonga, said the regional office needs a culture change and called the effort “healing hearts,” a process in which “staff feel they are part of the team” and are supported and empowered. Some of the ways this can be done is through training and setting up a task force or working group to hear out staff issues and views, he added.

The Western Pacific has never had a woman nor someone from the Pacific islands as a regional director. Since 1951, the position has been filled by a Korean or a Japanese man. This year’s elections, however, do not include candidates from either country, providing new leadership opportunities. Three out of the five candidates up for the job are women.

Meanwhile, opening the conference yesterday, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “During the pandemic, all countries built new capacities to prevent and control epidemics and pandemics. I urge all Member States to sustain those gains and not slip back into the cycle of panic and neglect. The investments you have made must not go to waste. And nor must the painful lessons we have learned.”

The Regional Committee will discuss strategies to address health security, health workforces, communication for health and health innovations.

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