Alongside European Development Days, WHO and the European Commission reinforce cooperation to help countries move towards universal health coverage


WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica signed the next phase of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) partnership programme for 2019–2022, worth € 123.75 million (US$ 135 million), on 18 June 2019.

During the signing ceremony, Dr Tedros recognized the importance of primary health care “as a cornerstone of universal health coverage” and added that “WHO has no higher priority than universal health coverage…. It not only improves health, it also helps to reduce poverty, drive inclusive economic growth and advance gender equality”.

Commissioner Mimica commented, “We will not reach our objectives on Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] 3 just by tackling specific diseases, we need a more comprehensive outlook and to make sure that the overall health system gets the financing it needs”.

The signing took place alongside the annual European Development Days event in Brussels, where Dr Tedros and other WHO staff participated in several different sessions. This year’s event focused on “Addressing inequalities: Building a world which leaves no one behind”.

Breaking the silence about mental health

During his visit to Brussels, Dr Tedros also participated in a dialogue on mental health with Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of the Belgians, one of 17 SDG Advocates appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General. Dr Tedros remarked that, while awareness of the importance of good mental health is growing, we are a long way from meeting the need for prevention and support services. He said, “The key to promoting better mental health is to ensure that mental health services are included in benefit packages as part of UHC”. Queen Mathilde stressed, “We need to pay more attention to mental health problems,” noting that people with such illnesses “face enormous obstacles and we need to break the silence on this issue”.

Inequalities in sexual and reproductive health and rights

Speaking at the session on “Inequalities in sexual and reproductive health and rights”, jointly organized by WHO, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF), Dr Tedros noted, “We cannot truly say we have achieved universal health coverage unless women are able to exercise choice and control over their sexual and reproductive health”. Other speakers on the panel included UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem and Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium Alexander de Croo.

UHC was again recognized as the best way for countries to address all these challenges and Dr Tedros called for sexual and reproductive health to be included in benefit packages as part of a commitment to UHC.

Partnerships critical for finding innovative solutions

During European Development Days, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, held a discussion on the role of partnerships and innovation to overcome inequalities in health.

In the opening remarks, European Commission Director-General for International Cooperation and Development Stefano Manservisi recognized the innovative approach of the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All, which combines the resources and expertise of 12 of the world’s leading health and development organizations. Manservisi acknowledged that “greater collaboration among global health actors is crucial to accelerate the SDGs, putting health at the centre of the 2030 agenda”.

In her intervention, Dr Jane Ellison, WHO’s Executive Director for External Relations and Governance, invited participants to engage in the online public discussion on a set of papers outlining how to strengthen collaboration to support countries in accelerating progress on the health and health-related SDG targets. These papers will inform the final draft of the Global Action Plan that will be launched at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2019.