WHO Kobe Centre (WKC) contributes to COVID-19 prevention and control

WKC was established nearly 25 years ago with strong financial and material support and collaboration from the Kobe Group.[1] It functions as a department of WHO Headquarters, and as the only World Health Organization entity in Japan, it has both a global and a local mandate.

Since the start of the global outbreak of COVID-19, our contributions to the community in Kobe and Hyogo prefecture have focused on communicating and disseminating the latest technical information and public guidance. This is a core part of our local engagement mandate to raise awareness and advocate for the health of all citizens.

WKC’s first and most critical actions have focused on translating the latest technical information and public guidance into Japanese, working closely with government officials of Kobe City and Hyogo prefecture.

So far, we have translated over 40 WHO guidance documents which are disseminated on our website and through social media. WKC continues to translate WHO’s Disease Outbreak News for Kansai regional officials, and our Technical Officer, Dr. Ryoma Kayano, gives weekly updates to professionals in Kobe City and Hyogo Prefecture.

WKC is using digital media to disseminate key messages on COVID-19 in Japanese as widely as possible. The Centre is collaborating with the UN Information Centre and other UN agencies in Japan to translate and amplify social media messaging and has created a special page on WKC’s Japanese website. Here the public can find general information, government officials and health care workers can access technical guidance and an explanation about how to read the WHO daily situation report.


In solidarity with the health workers and citizens of Kobe

As part of the Kobe community, in April, WKC supported Kobe City’s “blue light” tribute to frontline health workers and donated over 1000 masks to the city. WKC’s Director, Dr Sarah Barber, wrote a letter of support to the city, emphasizing 4 Be’s: Be Safe, Be Smart, Be Kind, Be Kobe.

The media is a critical stakeholder in reporting accurate information about COVID-19 and how to stay healthy. We contributed to the Kobe Newspaper’s special series on COVID-19 and conducted interviews to share key health messages. Technical staff have also provided information on proper handwashing to the media.

The pandemic has shown that COVID-19 respects no borders. The best defense is preparedness, investing in strong health systems and primary health care. WKC stands with the people of Kobe and Japan. Together we can overcome this health threat. 


[1] Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe City, the Kobe Chamber of Commerce and Kobe Steel

World Health Day 2020 - Message from the Director of WKC

This year, World Health Day on 7 April is dedicated to the critical role that nurses and midwives play in keeping the world healthy. It takes place as the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses and other health workers are at the forefront of the response, putting their own lives at risk as they provide high quality support and care. Without nurses, there would be no response.

This year is also the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, who pioneered modern nursing. Her leadership emphasised sanitation, good hygiene and hand washing to prevent infectious diseases. This link, made less than 200 years ago, is still our first defence against COVID-19. Today we pay tribute to Florence Nightingale, and all nurses and midwives everywhere. They are the largest component of the health workforce, and backbone of any health system.

A strong nursing workforce is vital to achieve national and global targets for Universal Health Coverage (UHC), emergency preparedness and response, and the delivery of people-centred care. Having enough well trained, regulated and supported nurses and midwives can ensure that everyone, everywhere gets the healthcare they need.

Today, the WHO is releasing the first global report on nursing, The State of the World’s Nursing 2020. WHO and its partners urge investment in a massive acceleration of nursing education, jobs and leadership to ensure nurses get the support they need to keep the world healthy.

COVID-19 clearly demonstrates the importance and value of nurses to society. Let’s celebrate them and thank them for their service.

WKC's new webpage with WHO official information on COVID-19 in Japanese

Recognizing the importance of timely and accurate information in the current situation, and in support of local emergency response efforts, WKC has created a special webpage to provide WHO official information on COVID-19 translated into the Japanese language, including general information for the public, technical guidance for government officials and health care workers, and an explanation of how to read the WHO daily situation report.  The new webpage can be accessed from the following URL: https://extranet.who.int/kobe_centre/ja/news/COVID19_specialpage

Yangon workshop

Using research data to improve health system responsiveness to older people's needs, Myanmar, 16-17 December 2019

Findings from research on the health of older people in Myanmar were presented to local stakeholders and used to conduct a workshop on data-driven practice for primary health care workers in a rural township in Myanmar last month. Preliminary findings from this research had been recently presented at the 34th Congress of Japan Association for International Health.

WKC and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) co-funds research in Myanmar. It builds on the experiences of the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES) to improve data collection on the health of older people and its determinants through interviews with older people, and use that data to improve the health system’s responsiveness to their needs. Importantly, this research has a strong emphasis on the translation of research evidence into policy and practice.

On 16-17 December 2019, the research team organized two events to disseminate their findings in Myanmar. On the first day, a meeting was held in Yangon to have technical discussions about the research methods, findings and implications with stakeholders. It was attended by about 50 participants, including researchers from Myanmar, Malaysia and Japan, AMED, Japan International Cooperation Agency, HelpAge International and WHO.

On the second day, a workshop was organized at a rural health center in Hlaingtharya Township. The objective was to train local primary health care workers on the use of the research data to inform their practice. The workshop utilized data visualization techniques to facilitate understanding of the survey results, which was a key lesson learned from JAGES. About 40 primary health care workers, including the Township Medical Officer and Health Officer, Public Health Supervisor, Lady Health Visitors and midwives, participated in the workshop. They actively interpreted the recently collected data and brainstormed possible interventions that would be appropriate in their local context to promote health and healthcare access for older people.


International application of JAGES research sees results

The first results of research to learn from the lessons of the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES) in middle-income countries to promote universal health coverage and health equity were presented at the 34th Congress of the Japan Association for International Health earlier this month. 

WKC is supporting this new research where scientists have used information from the experiences in the JAGES’ tool for data collection to measure inequalities in older populations in Malaysia and Myanmar where rapid ageing is taking place.

The results from Myanmar revealed that among the sample of community-dwelling older adults whose blood pressure was measured, 54% were hypertensive, and 37% of these people had never been diagnosed with hypertension. This has significant implications in terms of UHC and access to health services for older people in Myanmar.

Furthermore, the risk of depression among older people tended to be higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Social participation as well as good health and higher socio-economic status were significantly associated with greater happiness. The results pending from Malaysia will provide an interesting comparison to these findings from Myanmar.

JAGES is the largest longitudinal survey of community-dwelling older adults in Japan which aims to understand the causes of health inequalities of older populations. It has successfully engaged with local and national governments to accelerate both the scientific research and the application of evidence to policies and programmes. WKC supported the JAGES project to understand the methods and metrics and how they could be validate elsewhere to impact positively on Universal Health Covearage.  


WKC Director’s message for Universal Health Coverage Day, 2019

On 23 September 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, all UN Member States agreed to a Political Declaration on UHC, signalling strong political commitment to ensuring that all people can receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.

Having made the political commitment, policy-makers are now asking reasonable questions about how to deliver on these political commitments. The WHO Centre for Health Development in Kobe (WKC) research helps countries think through these questions and determine the kinds of reforms they need to implement. This is particularly important in the context of megatrends such as population ageing, in which health systems need to change continually and adapt to people’s needs.

WKC research focuses on some of the most vexing problems for policy makers, such as how to ensure sustainable health financing with an ageing population. Recently completed research on price setting and price regulation will help countries of all income levels to do more with the resources they have to improve the quality of health care and financial protection for better health of all.  

Achieving UHC in the global context of population ageing requires affordable access to integrated services that are centred on the needs and rights attuned to older people. WKC collaborators are developing a new model of monitoring UHC that addresses essential health services, financial protection and effective coverage of ageing populations.

Investing in health systems is not only an investment in a healthier world, it’s an investment in a safer world. WKC is playing a pivotal role in a new global network to facilitate global action for improving the evidence base in health emergency and disaster risk management, so that countries can make policy decisions grounded in evidence of what works.

On this Universal Health Day, WKC is celebrating health as a human rights issue. Health is a precious commodity, and the basis of human dignity. We will continue to do work that supports countries to progress towards UHC, and equitable, accessible, affordable healthcare for all.

WKC Forum on Accelerating International Research Collaboration for Health-EDRM

WKC hosted a forum on October 18, 2019 on Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management (Health-EDRM) for local and international stakeholders to discuss how Japan, Hyogo Prefecture, and Kobe can contribute to developing global scientific evidence in this field.  In her opening remarks, Dr. Sarah Barber, Director of the WHO Kobe Centre (WKC), highlighted Health-EDRM as one of the major research themes on which WKC and local, national and international research institutes and universities are doing collaborative work. 

Representing the Kobe Group, Governor Toshizo Ido recognized the importance of the TPRN core group meeting and WHO and the WKC’s work on disaster risk management, and expressed the wish that the forum be held regularly.

Following presentations by Japanese experts on Health-EDRM policy, research, and response data, the audience discussed Japan’s experience and contributions to Health-EDRM evidence and data. 

Dr. Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury District Medical Officer for New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, summarized the findings as follows:

  • Valuable lessons can be shared from Japan’s experiences and standardized data;

  • Japan’s Health-EDRM templates should be shared with other countries so they can collect data more easily during and after disasters;

  • Different approaches should be taken for different disasters; and

  • More dedicated training and education related to Health-EDRM is needed, particularly for students.

In closing, Dr. Ngoy Nsenga, team lead for WHO’s Emergency Programme at the Regional Office for Africa (AFRO), recognized Japan and WHO for promoting Health-EDRM: “Even if I can go home and save one life, then Japan has contributed.” 

WKC Hosts Global Leaders in Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management

On October 17, global experts and leaders in health emergency and disaster risk management research (Health-EDRM) from WHO HQ and Regional Offices gathered for the first core group meeting of the WHO Thematic Platform for Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management Research Network (TPRN).  The objective of this meeting was to discuss and agree upon a process to update and finalize the broader Health-EDRM global research agenda. 

The participants set a suggested timeframe for follow-on tasks, such as the identification of additional stakeholder candidates and prioritization criteria for research themes.  Other steps included the invitation of the additional stakeholders, and a survey of new and old stakeholders to determine Health-EDRM research areas and themes.  Once these tasks are completed, the process to further develop the global research agenda is expected to be implemented.

Other outcomes of the meeting included recommendations for TPRN operations and further activities and agreement on the process to build the Health-EDRM Global Research Agenda, which should align with the General Programme of Work (GPW) 13, International Health Regulations (IHR), the WHO Health-EDRM Framework, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and other initiatives and programmes.

During the meeting, the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine (WADEM) also announced its collaboration with the WHO TPRN to have a joint follow up session at the 2021 WADEM Congress in Tokyo.

The development of the WHO Guidance on Research Methods for Health-EDRM was announced by TPRN co-chair Professor Virginia Murray.  Recognized as a need at the 2018 Health-EDRM expert meeting, the textbook will be released in 2020. 

The participants of the first TPRN Core Group Meeting will continue to seek other opportunities to discuss the formulation of the Health-EDRM research agenda with key stakeholders.


ACWKC Annual Meeting, 7-8 November 2019

The World Health Organization Centre for Health Development (WHO Kobe Centre [WKC]) held its annual advisory committee meeting (ACWKC) on November 7-8, 2019. The ACWKC is comprised of members appointed by the WHO Director General to represent the six regions of WHO, the host government, the donor group, and the local community. Governor Toshizo Ido delivered a welcome address to the advisory committee and the Kobe Group (Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe City, Kobe Steel, and the Kobe Chamber of Commerce and Industry). Two new members have joined the advisory committee, Dr Yasuyuki Sahara, representing the host government, Professor Emeritus Lis Wagner, representing EUR. The meeting was chaired by Professor Maged Al-Sherbiny, representing EMR, and the rapporteur was Professor David Lindeman, representing AMR. Also attending was Vice Governor Kazuo Kanazawa, representing the donor group, Dr Viroj Tangcharoensathien, representing WPR, and Dr Atsuko Uchinuno, representing the local community. The ACWKC provided insightful feedback and detailed suggestions and recommendations to WKC for its proposed research and future activities. See our ACWKC members and meeting reports at https://extranet.who.int/kobe_centre/en/advisory-committee

WKC in London

WKC Meets with UK Partners in London to Discuss Research into UHC

Dr Paul Ong, Technical Officer at WKC, recently visited a host of UK based partners to discuss WKC’s research into health services delivery, financing and innovations for UHC in light of the challenges of population aging.

Dr Ong visited the London Secretariat of HelpAge International; University College and King’s College, University of London; The European Observatory on Health Systems and Policy, and the International Longevity Centre (United Kingdom).

Seminars were provided, where Dr. Ong detailed WKC’s research agenda into UHC while also leading lively discussions on the implications that population ageing might have for countries striving to progressively realize UHC. Among the rich discussion, this included debate about how low and middle-income countries could progressively develop their health systems as population ageing occurs, and as significant improvements to communicable diseases, maternal and child health services are realized, leading to increased longevity and a rise in non-communicable diseases. The challenges in developing multi-sectoral continuous care for older people with progressive chronic diseases were also discussed, building on WKC’s research into services delivery models that aim to optimize quality of life and service utilization by this population.

Participants greatly appreciated the opportunity to engage with WKC’s work on UHC. They also gained greater insight into the values that underpin WHO’s drive for UHC well beyond as one participant put it, “merely producing a long shopping list of things that we want for older people or for the many diseases that can afflict this and other populations. We now understand that UHC is values led and evidence-informed and requires a whole of health systems thinking and approach, coupled with careful policy choices, and the building of political will and momentum”.