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WHO Western Pacific Innovation Forum: Achieving the Health Future We Need

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific region held its first annual Innovation Forum. International policymakers and thought leaders discussed the critical role innovation plays in navigating today’s health challenges, as well as future ones. The three-day virtual event underscored the significance of innovation in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and non-communicable diseases throughout Southeast Asia.

Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO Western Pacific regional director, said the unprecedented pandemic has “upended the ways in which our societies operate, and how we perceive and value the health of ourselves and others. It has forced us to reprioritize issues, reoptimize systems and come up with ingenious ways of doing things to take better care of the most vulnerable.” Recognizing that COVID-19 has forced many countries to innovate, Kasai also urged governments to collaborate in order to overcome challenges in a post-pandemic world.

In particular, Vietnam has been at the forefront of implementing new and innovative strategies since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. Top health officials, including Dr. Luong Ngoc Khue, general director of medical service administration in Vietnam’s Health Ministry, pushed for accelerated use of telemedicine and digitalization to ensure adequate, safe and high-quality health services reach patients in need. Ngoc Khue also helped establish various working groups of experienced clinicians to encourage real-time COVID-19 treatment decision-making.

Other countries throughout Southeast Asia should build on Vietnam’s momentum by supporting pro-innovation policies that help spur new medicines for patients and contribute to the region’s growing innovation ecosystem. It’s imperative that policymakers also protect the intellectual property of new discoveries to encourage ongoing investment and meet the needs of patients who rely on life-saving therapies, like those in development to treat COVID-19 as well as various non-communicable diseases.

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