12 Nov, 2014 Last updated: 18 Feb, 2015

We interviewed Dr Shin Young-soo following the recent designation of VicHealth as a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Leadership in Health Promotion.

Dr Shin Young-soo

He expressed the future health priorities for the Western Pacific Region and his enthusiasm of a fruitful and sustainable partnership with VicHealth.

Dr Shin Young-soo was appointed as WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific in 2009 and successful in securing a second five-year term in 2014.

What do you hope to achieve in your second term with the WHO?

The Western Pacific Region (WPR) is very dynamic and will continue to evolve. Key issues include ageing populations, climate change and the transition to the post-2015 development agenda. All this is within the context of economic change, and for some countries unprecedented private sector growth. The significance of the private sector will continue to increase in coming years.

Going forward, we must do everything possible to ensure health is a core development issue. Only in this way will we be able to offer real hope of health and wellbeing – and the promise for sustainable development – for the 1.8 billion people in our region.

How different are the WPR’s health priorities to other regions?

The WPR is home to about one quarter of the world’s population, yet we experience a much larger share of the world’s most pressing health issues and natural disasters.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – mainly cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – are responsible for four out of five deaths in the Region. Of WHO’s six regions, the WPR has the most smokers, the largest number of male smokers and the fastest increase in tobacco uptake by women and young people.

What do you see as the particular health challenges facing the Australian population regarding risk factors for burden of disease?

Australians enjoy very good health outcomes and many of the health conditions are associated with modifiable risk factors, such as improper nutrition and lack of physical activity. NCDs account for 91 per cent of total deaths in Australia.

The ageing of Australia’s population is expected to result in increasing numbers of people with disability from diseases such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, hearing and vision loss, and osteoarthritis. I would like to once again thank Australia for its pioneering work in introducing plain packaging for cigarettes in a bid to reduce smoking rates. This was a bold and courageous move, and one that is now being considered by several other countries.

Deaths from NCDs like heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease are increasing in the WPR. What are the WHO’s key strategies to address this in the region?

Ultimately, our vision is that countries sustain their political and financial commitments to prevent and control NCDs so they are no longer a barrier to socioeconomic development. Specifically, WHO recommends the following cost-effective interventions to address NCDs:

  • increasing taxes on tobacco products, smoke-free zones in all public spaces, graphic health warnings on packaging and a total ban on marketing
  • limiting commercial/public availability of alcoholic products and restrictions on marketing
  • reducing salt intake and public awareness programs to encourage healthy eating
  • addressing physical inactivity with public awareness program on the benefits of an active lifestyle.

It is great to see Australia taking a lead role in implementing many of these interventions, and inspiring other countries in the WPR and beyond to do the same.

What do you hope to achieve through the designation of VicHealth as a WHO Collaborating Centre for Leadership in Health Promotion?

VicHealth is one of the pioneering health promotion foundations in the world. It has accumulated a wealth of experience and expertise that can be shared with other countries that may be embarking on their own journey to set up health promotion foundations. VicHealth certainly has much to offer as evidenced by its culture of innovation and cutting edge research.

We also see VicHealth playing a key role in inspiring other countries to champion health promotion. In addition, we hope that VicHealth will continue welcoming delegates and study tours to witness the workings of VicHealth firsthand. We see our collaboration with VicHealth as one based on a shared vision, mutual exchange, and synergistic knowledge transfer.