Former Tongan Health Minister Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala has been nominated as the next World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
Health ministers and other senior officials from the Region’s Member States voted Tuesday during the seventy-fourth session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.
Proposed by Tonga, Dr Piukala is a surgeon with nearly 30 years of experience as a public health leader working in Tonga and across the Pacific. He is a champion of multisectoral collaboration to address health challenges, such as climate change, noncommunicable diseases and tobacco control, among others.
Since becoming Tonga’s Minister of Health, he has been very involved in the work of WHO, advocating and championing initiatives on noncommunicable diseases, safe surgery, climate change and health, and disaster preparedness and response.
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, who is attending the Regional Committee in Manila this week, 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.”
The Acting regional director for the Western Pacific, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab served the region since August 2022, initially as Officer-in-Charge and then as Acting Regional Director since March 2023.
She also offered her successor warm wishes: “I congratulate Dr Piukala for being nominated as the next WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific,” she said.
“From February 2024 onwards, I am confident that you will continue to lead the important work of WHO in this Region, hand-in-hand with our diverse workforce, Member States and partners. I look forward to handing over a well-functioning office that is ready for the challenges of the coming years,” Dr Jakab said.