Regional Committee opens on Monday in Malta

Department of Information, Malta

Ministers and representatives from 52 countries in the WHO European Region are in Malta on 10–13 September 2012 for the sixty-second session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe.

The session is being webcast and covered on Twitter (#RC62Malta).

Press conference

Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, and Dr Joseph Cassar, Minister for Health, the Elderly and Community Care of Malta, spoke to the Maltese media on Friday, 7 September, ahead of the Regional Committee session. Ms Jakab outlined the main issues to be discussed at this year’s session: the new European health policy framework, Health 2020; WHO reform and the global programme budget for 2014–2015; an action plan for healthy ageing in Europe, 2012–2016; the Regional Office's country strategy; and a renewed strategy on geographically dispersed offices.

Speaking about a study on the inequities in health that has contributed to the development of Health 2020, Ms Jakab commented, “Its preliminary findings confirm once again that poverty continues to be the greatest threat to people’s health, regardless of a country’s level of development. The inequalities in health between and within the countries of the Region are still unacceptably large and are on the rise.”

Dr Cassar noted that this session of the WHO Regional Committee will be very well attended, with delegations from 52 of the 53 Member States in the WHO European Region, 27 ministers and deputy ministers and 300 delegates.

With reference to Health 2020, he added, “I have always said that we are the Ministry of Health, not illness, and our focus should include prevention, healthy ageing and noncommunicable diseases, as these make such a big difference to people's lives. We are proud to be the hosts of this meeting when such important documents will be discussed.”

Signing of the biennial collaborative agreement between Malta and WHO/Europe

Continuing many years of fruitful collaboration, Ms Jakab and Dr Cassar signed the biennial collaborative agreement (BCA) between Malta and WHO/Europe for 2012–2013 on 8 September 2012.

Explaining her broader vision for collaboration with European countries in the future, Ms Jakab said, “I would like to see two-part collaboration with countries in the future, where the BCA is combined with an agreement on the contribution by an individual country to regional and global health development.”

The BCA formalizes joint work between Malta’s Ministry for Health, the Elderly and Community Care and WHO/Europe in the broad areas of health systems strengthening and public health; noncommunicable diseases, health promotion and healthy lifestyles; and communicable diseases, health security and environment.

Specifically, WHO/Europe's work with Malta over the next two years will include:

  • an assessment of health system performance linked to the national health account;
  • the development and approval of a nutrition policy with a focus on settings;
  • an evaluation of and report on the Food and Nutrition Action Plan (FNAP) for Malta;
  • capacity-building and technical support in the use of survey data for evidence-based policy-making in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; and
  • an assessment of national environment and health inequalities and capacity-building to tackle them.

High-level meeting with selected Member States

WHO/Europe hosted discussions with countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Georgia and Member States of the South-eastern Europe Health Network ahead of the Regional Committee session. The meeting on 8–9 September enabled ministers and high-level delegations from 6 countries to engage in informal strategic discussions and to share experiences on specific issues, including WHO reform, Health 2020, the prevention and control of noncommmunicable diseases, mental health, research and development for health, and the European action plan for strengthening public health capacities and services.

WHO reform: Reviewing the way in which WHO is financed, to encourage greater predictability and flexibility, was the initial prompt for the reform process. WHO/Europe explained that this remains key, and other anticipated implications of the reform for the WHO European Region include fewer core programmes, a progressive shift in resources to noncommunicable diseases, and the strengthening of WHO's accountability for delivering products and services to an agreed budget.

Delegates expressed their support for the reform process, particularly on the coordination with countries on setting priorities, and the focus on outcomes and accountability. The importance of supporting projects between countries at the subregional level, in addition to global, regional and national levels, was also emphasized.

Noncommunicable diseases: Discussions on an updated global action plan on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) centred around the change in focus towards how to measure results. WHO/Europe appealed to Member States to provide examples of where a new law has been adopted or new price regime established to illustrate the impacts and outcomes in countries of new measures to address NCDs. Countries present welcomed the increasing focus on NCDs, and requested WHO expertise to increase Member States' capacity to measure the risk factors for these diseases and report on targets and indicators.

Research and development for health: WHO/Europe reported that a consultative expert working group was set up in 2010 in response to concerns that insufficient resources were being devoted to target diseases that disproportionately affect economically disadvantaged people.

This working group has made several recommendations, including the establishment of a legally binding convention on global health research and development, all of which have generated strong discussions. So far, feedback from countries has indicated that further deliberation is needed and at this stage a voluntary code for contributing to health research and development should be established rather than a more binding legal instrument. These issues will be considered further at the upcoming Regional Committee session.

Health 2020: Introducing the new European policy framework for health, Health 2020, WHO/Europe underlined the extensive consultations that have taken place during its development. The policy brings together current health policy knowledge on what works and its aim is to be used by ministries of health to reach out to other sectors and different areas of government to promote health and well-being.

Countries at the meeting expressed their support for the policy document and their appreciation that Health 2020 covers all aspects of health policy, being both practical and strategic. Several countries informed the group that they are already in the process of integrating the values of Health 2020 into their national strategies and plans.

European action plan for strengthening public health capacities and services:
WHO/Europe explained that there is a clear need to transform and update public health services in countries in the Region, to take account of new challenges such as inequalities, the prevalence of NCDs and an ageing population.

Key to this transformation is the need to invest more in prevention and health promotion measures, which currently account for only 3% of health budgets. Focusing on prevention is a cost-effective approach to improving health outcomes. An action plan has been developed to complement and support the Health 2020 policy in this respect.

Ministers and delegates attending the meeting expressed their full support for an increasing focus on public health, and greater investment in prevention and health promotion.

Briefing for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)

Representatives of some 30 NGOs present at this year's session took part in a preparatory briefing, to discuss their participation in the Regional Committee session and the forthcoming agenda.

Standing Committee of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe

The Nineteenth Standing Committee of the Regional Committee (SCRC) held its fifth and final session on Sunday, 9 September 2012. It reviewed the provisional agenda and provisional programme of the Regional Committee and other procedural matters in preparation for the session.

Highlights for Monday include:

  • address by Prime Minister of Malta Lawrence Gonzi
  • address by Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark
  • opening address by WHO Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab
  • address by European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli
  • address by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Deputy Secretary-General Yves Leterme
  • plenary discussion on decisions and resolutions of the World Health Assembly and Executive Board.