Dankesrede an die 136. Tagung des WHO-Exekutivrates

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe

I thank Member States for the trust and confidence that they have placed in me for this second term. I would also like to thank the Director-General for her continuous support during all these years.

I wish to reaffirm that I will continue working hard to respond to the challenges and needs of the WHO European Region in order to meet the expectations of Member States – in a global spirit of One WHO, fully aligned with global developments.

When I took office five years ago, I committed to continuing to improve the health in our Region. We have made good progress in several areas. During the next five years, together with the excellent support of my staff at the Regional Office and the country offices, we will continue this work to improve the healthy life expectancy in our Region, striving for more equity in health and linking health to sustainable development. While health has improved in our Region over the past three decades, we still face great challenges, particularly the inequalities in health that scar our Region. That is the essence of Health 2020, our regional policy framework for health and well-being, in line with the Global Programme of Work. We are committed to supporting Member States in its full implementation.

To move forward in addressing the disease burden and inequalities in our Region, we need to pursue governance that supports integrated action to address all determinants of health, both within and beyond the health sector, including the economic, social and environmental elements. Health 2020 therefore foresees whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches, together with health-in-all policies. Collaboration among sectors, such as education, social policy and employment, development and finance, foreign policy and environment, is paramount for all areas of our work, be it noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), health security or communicable diseases. Such intersectoral action helps us to move forward with the upstream investments that are at the heart of Health 2020: strengthened public health functions, moving towards universal health coverage, and strengthening primary health care as part of integrated, coordinated, people-centred care – just to mention some of the strategic directions that we follow.

Our strong focus on NCDs will continue over the next five years. They are an area where we have already started to see results of which we can be proud: reduction in cardiovascular diseases and premature mortality across the Region. With strong and sustained efforts, it is realistic to imagine a Europe that will achieve some of the global targets by 2025. As 80% of premature mortality is preventable, we can still expect a huge health gain in the Region by addressing the underlying causes through the implementation of effective strategies, as well as inequity.  

Turning to communicable diseases, we will sustain the achievements already made while addressing new challenges and unfinished business. Despite the good progress, tuberculosis and HIV are still of concern and will continue to be our priorities, with a continued focus on key populations at risk. In the area of antimicrobial resistance, establishing a harmonized surveillance system is and will remain a priority, especially in the eastern part of the Region. We will support actions between the human and animal sectors and regulatory and legislative changes. There is good progress on malaria elimination by 2015 and we are working on vector-borne diseases, as requested by the sixty-second session of the Regional Committee. Immunization to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases remains a great challenge.

That is why we accelerated our work on measles and rubella elimination and developed a regional vaccine action plan, which was adopted by the sixty-fourth session of the Regional Committee. Meanwhile, the Region has kept its polio-free status despite various threats in the past years. I am happy to report that the European Regional Commission for the Certification of Poliomyelitis Eradication concluded that wild poliovirus transmission in the environment has been interrupted in Israel. 

A large part of our work on NCDs and communicable diseases takes a health systems approach: we strive to strengthen health systems for better outcomes for NCDs and communicable diseases. Health systems strengthening remains our flagship approach and we continue the Tallinn process, within which we repositioned public health as an essential component. The economic crisis had an impact on health and health systems with an increased demand from Member States for WHO support. We therefore carried out substantial work in this area with agreed policy recommendations endorsed by the Regional Committee.

Health security, building the International Health Regulations core capacities and strengthened Member State preparedness with an all-hazard approach, has been a high priority for us and will continue to be. The Regional Office supported the global response to Ebola from the outset and used the opportunity to also assess the preparedness of our Region, which will now be the basis for our ongoing work. We work closely with Member States and regional partners to review and strengthen the preparedness and readiness of the Regional Office and country offices for any public health emergency or crisis.

Finally, the environment and health process has been under way in our Region for 30 years, bringing the various sectors together and yielding good results. That process will continue and provides a good model for working across sectoral boundaries.

There was major progress in two important strategic directions of our work: collaboration with Member States continuously improved and strengthened and we deepened our relations with key partners.

The WHO European Region plays an important role in the WHO reform process. The decisions of the governing bodies have been implemented immediately and the Region also contributed with new initiatives. There has been particularly good progress on governance issues. A subgroup of the Standing Committee of the Regional Committee (SCRC) continuously follows developments and makes proposals to the SCRC. The WHO Regional Committee for Europe has also reviewed and “sunset” all outdated resolutions of the past 10 years, to mention just one example.

The management and administration of the Regional Office have been strengthened for increased efficiency, accountability and transparency. The financial sustainability of the Office has improved as a result of global developments, such as the financing dialogue, and also due to our regional financial sustainability plan.

Much has been done and learned together with Member States in the past five years and the work will continue. I am committed to working with Member States and partners to implement what we have jointly agreed.