Tonga’s Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala nominated to lead WHO Western Pacific Region

Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala (Photo: WHO)

Tonga’s Minister for Health, Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala has been nominated as the next World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

His candidacy was successful at the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific meeting currently underway in Manila.

Dr Piukala is a surgeon with nearly 30 years of experience as a public health leader working in Tonga and across the Pacific.

Addressing the Regional Committee and the WHO workforce, Dr Piukala said, “At home, we say that it takes a village to raise a child. Today, I stand here before you, not as Saia Ma’u Piukala, but as someone who is here because of that village. That village was not just in Tonga. It was my experience in the many places I have been, including Pacific Island Countries, all of the WHO work and meetings, across the Western Pacific Region and at the World Health Assembly in Geneva. My fellow villagers – including all of you – I am very grateful. The outcome today is not of my doing, but a result of the contribution of my fellow villagers, including all of you and many others who are not here today. I thank you sincerely for the trust you have placed in me today. I know that to whom much is given, much is expected, and I look forward to working with you to make our Region the one we want it to be.”

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, congratulated Dr Piukala on his nomination as the next Regional Director for the Western Pacific: “This Region is home to almost one quarter of the world’s population, and it is among the most diverse of WHO’s six regions – from the steppes of Mongolia to the beaches of the Pacific, from the world’s largest and most crowded cities to some of its most remote villages – the Western Pacific is a Region of incredible contrasts, unique challenges and unlimited potential. The diversity of landscapes, languages, cultures and traditions is immense, and so is the scale of health challenges. Dr Piukala, you have not applied for an easy job. But you have applied for one of the most important, and one of the most rewarding. It will demand all of the technical, managerial, and diplomatic skill and experience you have. But you are not alone. You are supported by a very dedicated and talented team. And I assure you of my support and that of my colleagues in Geneva. You have my full support, my full confidence and my best wishes. I look forward to working with you as we chart a path forward together.”

Dr Piukala’s name will be submitted for appointment to the 154th session of the WHO Executive Board, scheduled for 22-27 January 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland. He will take office as the Regional Director on 1 February 2024 for an initial term of five years.

There were five candidates for the position, including Solomon Islands’ Dr Jimmie Rodgers.