WHO candidate says money turned votes against him

MANILA, 11 OCTOBER 2018 (RNZ PACIFIC) – The unsuccessful candidate for a senior post at the World Health Organisation (WHO) says he probably would have gotten the job if some Pacific countries had not been paid off.

Colin Tukuitonga fell short of the votes needed to become the regional director of the WHO for the Western Pacific, losing to Japan’s candidate, Takeshi Kasai.

Dr Tukuitonga, who is the director general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), said he went into the poll with the near unanimous support of Pacific countries but fell short when it came to the actual vote.

A few Melanesian countries changed their support at the last minute, Dr Tukuitonga said.

“I think it’s no secret that some people use money to get influence,” he said.

“We’re all aware of the announcements that have been made in the public about a hospital here and an airport building there in various places around the Pacific.

“Ministers and their officials told me directly what they had been offered. These things happen.”

Dr Tukuitonga, who had the support of New Zealand’s government, had run on a platform of reforming how the organisation worked in the region.

He said he was proud of the campaign he ran and would continue with the Pacific Community until his term ended.

He wished Dr Kasai well with combatting the problems facing the region, including struggling health systems and a noncommunicable disease crisis.

The 53-year-old Japanese doctor was elected by the region’s health ministers on a platform of reining in noncommunicable diseases and eradicating some tropical diseases by 2020.

Beginning next year, the Hiroshima-born public health expert, will use his five-year term to tackle lifestyle diseases, which officials blame for 80 percent of deaths among the 1.9 billion people of the western Pacific.

“Non-communicable diseases are growing,” outgoing regional director Shin Young-soo told reporters, referring to conditions related to obesity, such as diabetes and heart problems.

“This is more like lifestyle-related diseases. Some people in the Pacific islands, for instance, lived on fishing but they consume a lot of junk foods because they no longer cook and the latter are readily available.”

In the past, the bulk of deaths in the region were from infectious, communicable and tropical diseases, including pandemics, such as virus outbreaks and various strains of influenza.

A top priority for Kasai is the WHO’s goal of stamping out diseases such as lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, and glaucoma or eye diseases by 2020, he said.

“The real problem is how to reach vulnerable people because many areas are inaccessible and very remote,” Shin added.

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