Future WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific: Dr Takeshi Kasai

Public Health in Developing Countries (1999), Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (DTMH) (1997) alumnus, Takeshi Kasai told us about being nominated to be the next Regional Director for the Western Pacific, based in Manila, Philippines. WHO’s Western Pacific Region includes 37 countries and areas, stretching from Mongolia and China in the north, all the way to French Polynesia in the east, and Australia and New Zealand in the south. WHO works to support all 37 countries and areas to promote health, keen the Region safe, and serve the vulnerable.

 

Before he worked for WHO, Dr Kasai decided to study at LSHTM because the School allowed students to take units in very different disciplines, such as epidemiology, health economics, health policy and anthropology, which stimulated his curiosity. “The School also offered the renowned DTMH course, and I took that after my master’s course.” Dr Kasai also chose to study at LSHTM because he wanted to do something different to his colleagues. At the time, most of his friends went to the US to study, but very rarely the UK.

 

Dr Kasai told us that he gained valuable knowledge and skills from studying at LSHTM, but his time at the School was not without its challenges. “The volume of English reading overwhelmed me at first. The only way to overcome the challenge was to just continue to read and read, day and night, except on Friday nights!”

Following his time at LSHTM, Dr Kasai worked on infectious disease control in his native Japan, before joining WHO in 2000.

Dr Kasai says that the greatest relief in his career to date was when the SARS crisis was over in 2004. “Our region was the epicenter of the crisis, and we lost a colleague during the response. It was one of the most intense periods in my career. After SARS, we organised a series of discussions to identify lessons learned and eventually developed a framework called the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases, to guide countries and WHO on how to prepare for and respond to emerging infectious disease threats. We have been implementing this framework for more than a decade, and as a result, the system to detect and respond to infectious diseases has significantly improved.” Dr Kasai also recalls his time fondly serving as WHO Representative in Vietnam, from 2012 to 2014. “I was very proud to receive a medal from the Vietnamese government in recognition of my contributions, particularly to their health insurance reforms.”

In October 2018, Dr Kasai was nominated by WHO’s Member States in the Western Pacific Region to the next WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. His nomination will be considered by WHO’s global Executive Board in January, and if approved, he will take office as Regional Director on 1 February 2019.

In this role, Dr Kasai will lead WHO’s work in the Western Pacific Region, and hopes to help make the Region one of the safest and healthiest in the world. “I believe that we can do that with fullest cooperation from ordinary people, the community, leaders, partners, and of course WHO’s Member States. While many countries in our Region have experienced rapid economic development in recent years, there are emerging challenges, including unplanned urbanization, an increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), ageing populations, the health impact of climate change and development, and increases in inequity, just to name a few. I will use all my knowledge, including what I gained at LSHTM, as well as my experience, management skills, and leadership to work with countries and support them in addressing those challenges.”

Dr Kasai told us that he received a lot of support from LSHTM graduates over the years, and he has tried to support fellow alumni wherever possible. His advice to current students is to “grow beyond your previous limitations. At LSHTM there are stimuli all around you. Not just the LSHTM knowledge base, but the faculty, classmates with different backgrounds, and of course, London.”

Images courtesy of Dr Takeshi Kasai.

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