63 session WHO Europe

Intensive, productive Regional Committee closes: countries focused on implementation of new health policy framework

Copenhagen and Çeşme Izmir, 19 September 2013

The WHO Regional Committee for Europe, the decision-making body for the WHO European Region, wrapped up its sixty-third session today. Led by ministers and high-level representatives, European countries reached important agreements on a number of key public health issues and the technical and administrative work of the WHO Regional Office for Europe. More than 300 people from 51 Member States in the WHO European Region, international partners and nongovernmental organizations, along with observers, attended the session, which took place on 16–19 September 2013 in Çeşme Izmir, Turkey.

The Committee adopted 11 resolutions and 2 decisions on the establishment of geographically dispersed offices in Kazakhstan and Turkey.

Health 2020 – the new WHO European health policy framework – was at the centre of the Committee’s discussions. Member States adopted a set of core indicators to monitor the Region’s progress in implementing Health 2020 and achieving its goals.

“Implementing Health 2020 demonstrates the commitment of all our Member States to better health for our European population today and for generations to come,” Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, told the representatives. “It shows how action on the whole spectrum of health determinants leads to wider benefits. I am absolutely determined that the Regional Office will support all its Member States to help them implement Health 2020 in the light of country circumstances and needs, and will really make a difference.”

A new report on the social determinants of health and the health divide in the WHO European Region was presented to Member States. It contains health statistics and identifies trends that demonstrate persistent and widespread inequities in health across the Region, and sets major priorities for tackling the social determinants of health.

In addition, Member States agreed on a European mental health action plan for 2014–2020, which will help countries improve their populations’ mental well-being and reduce the burden of mental disorders. The plan has seven interlinked objectives and proposes integrated action.

Further, the Regional Committee reached an important agreement on measles and rubella in Europe, unanimously endorsing a package of actions to accelerate progress towards eliminating the diseases by 2015. Experts warn that the Region is facing a critical moment in this struggle, as large outbreaks and local transmission of measles persist in many countries. Although most countries in the Region have controlled rubella, routine childhood immunization programmes and activities may not be sufficient to reach the 2015 target without renewed political commitment, accelerated action and innovative ways to reach susceptible and hard-to-reach groups.

Other decisions and issues

The Regional Committee adopted a regional framework for action to respond to the increased health threats posed by the spread of invasive mosquito species and re-emerging vector-borne diseases in Europe, focusing particularly on dengue and chikungunya fever. The aim is to create a regional platform to facilitate and coordinate activities, including cross-border action.

The Regional Committee also urged Member States and the WHO Secretariat to increase investment in and strengthen efforts to support health systems in times of global economic crisis. Its resolution is based on the latest evidence, including 10 policy lessons, on the impact of the financial and economic crisis on health and health systems in the WHO European Region, as discussed in Oslo, Norway in April 2013.

In addition, Member States endorsed the Vienna Declaration on Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020. It calls for reducing the pressure of marketing on children to consume foods high in salt, fat and sugar. The solution includes cooperation with the food industry, focusing on obesity, and fostering healthy food choices through labelling and pricing.

The representatives reviewed progress towards achieving the commitments made by European countries at the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in 2010.

Further, the Regional Committee agreed to establish two new geographically dispersed offices of the WHO Regional Office for Europe in Kazakhstan and Turkey: on primary health care and preparedness for humanitarian and health emergencies, respectively. Both countries have pledged US$ 20 million each for the establishment and operation of the offices.

Of the Committee’s discussions of WHO reform, Ms Jakab explained that the current Regional Committee would focus on accountability and reporting back. She thanked Member States for their countries’ notable health developments and strong commitment to implementing Health 2020.

The Turkish Minister of Health, speaking at the opening of the Regional Committee, explained his country’s ongoing commitment to people-centred, evidence-based, equitable and sustainable health policies. He explained that commitment at the highest level of the Government ensures that health is regarded as a multisectoral responsibility, and the health sector reaches out to others. One recent development in this area is the development of the national strategic action plan for 2013–2017, following the principles of Health 2020.

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