Regional Committee: Highlights of Day 4


Dr Gauden Galea presents the European Mental Health Action Plan which was adopted by the Regional Committee

On the final day of the sixty-third session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, Member States adopted the European Action Plan on Mental Health. A total of 11 resolutions and 2 decisions were adopted at this year’s session.

European Mental Health Action Plan

Promoting mental health and preventing and treating mental disorders are vital to ensure quality of life and well-being. Speaking in plenary, Dr Gauden Galea, WHO/Europe, explained that in the Region almost 20% of years lost to ill health or premature death are due to neuropsychiatric conditions. He added that the economic crisis has exacerbated the challenge of addressing mental ill-health and promoting well-being across the European Region. In addition, evidence shows that there is a treatment gap for mental-health services in the Region: an estimated 17.8% are not receiving treatment for psychosis, 39.9% lack treatment for bipolar conditions and 45.4% for major depression.

Dr Galea detailed the two-year consultative process that had taken place to develop the European Mental Health Action Plan, which is aligned with the Global Mental Health Action Plan agreed by the sixty-sixth World Health Assembly earlier this year.

The Action Plan has seven objectives, namely to ensure:

  • equal opportunities to mental well-being throughout life;
  • human rights for those with mental-health problems;
  • accessible and affordable mental-health services, with priority on community care;
  • respectful, safe and effective treatment;
  • health systems that provide good physical and mental health for all;
  • mental-health systems that are coordinated with other systems and partners; and
  • governance and delivery of mental health systems based on sound information and knowledge.

The Action Plan was warmly welcomed by the Member States, who commended WHO on the collaborative development process, and on its timeliness in the light of the economic crisis. Countries highlighted the importance of community-based care, the special focus on the young and the old (several delegations mentioned the challenge of addressing dementia), the need for multisectoral collaboration, and the necessity of treating people in a respectful manner. Commenting on the continuing stigma attached to mental ill-health compared to physical conditions, a delegate from the United Kingdom commented that “we should work towards ‘a parity of esteem’ with physical illness”.

The Member States adopted the resolution on the European Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020.

Global coordination mechanism for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases

To support the implementation of the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013-2020 and its nine voluntary global targets, WHO is planning to establish a global coordination mechanism (GCM) to support the different partners involved in the Plan.

Speaking on behalf of the Member States of the European Union, the Lithuanian delegation expressed recognition of WHO’s global leadership role in the fight against noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The delegation also expressed the hope that GCM would be “a light and time-bound structure” and stressed the need for the effective engagement of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and of a further definition of the division of tasks. Other comments included the understanding that the main function of the GCM would be information-sharing and that, to ensure its credibility, it must be able to address conflicts of interest.

Post-2015 development agenda

During discussions on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and health issues for the post-2015 development agenda, there was broad consensus that focus should be on maximizing health at all stages of life, working towards universal health coverage and extending the scope to include NCDs.

WHO will continue to support Member States in achiving MDGs; the use of health indictors is vital in tracking progress.

International Health Regulations (2005)

A total of 21 Member States in the WHO European Region have requested extensions to the deadline for implementing the International Health Regulations (IHR). WHO requested input from Member States on the criteria for further extensions, recommending that these include:

  • the submission of a formal written request by States Parties to the WHO Director-General, including a clear implementation plan, at least four months prior to the deadline.

The IHR Review Committee would then be convened to advise the Director-General on these requests for extension.

Noting that the occurrence of cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outside and within the European Region underlines the need for IHR, Member States expressed their thanks to WHO for assisting them in their implementation. The delegation of France requested that more detailed criteria for the extension of the IHR deadline be developed through a written consultation with Member States.

Polio eradication and endgame strategy

The Global Vaccine Action Plan 2011-2020 includes steps towards poliovirus detection and interruption by 2014 and sets the goals of strengthening immunization systems and the withdrawal of oral polio vaccine 2 by 2016, with the end goal of polio containment and certification by 2018. Immunization programmes in the Region are generally strong, but there are gaps.

The specific change in routine polio immunization schedules is the introduction of at least one dose of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and the withdrawal of the type 2 component from oral polio vaccine (OPV2). Eleven Member States use OPV only. WHO/Europe will assist Member States in this changeover process.

A monitoring and accountability framework will be presented at the sixty-seventh World Health Assembly.

Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: financing and coordination

Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly adopted a resolution to improve research and development on health issues specifically related to developing countries and to address inequities in the current research landscape. As part of this resolution, WHO will establish a global observatory on health. Feedback from Member States on the establishment of this new observatory was requested.

Open debate on progress reports: multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), IHR (2005), antibiotic resistance, tobacco control, food and nutrition, NCDs and MDGs

  • Many delegations stressed the importance of tackling MDR-TB, and thanked the Regional Director for prioritizing this issue. Countries emphasized the need to improve surveillance and cooperate with other organizations, including the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), as well as to pay special attention to patients with alcohol and drug-abuse problems and provide simultaneous methadone substitution treatment. The need for community involvement was also underlined.
  • Member States were informed that self-medication and over-the-counter sales would be the focus of this year’s European Antibiotic Awareness Day on 18 November. WHO will continue to work with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health and other partners to address antimicrobial issues at the human, environmental and animal interface.
  • Germany spoke about the efforts made in the country to reduce smoking among young people, raising the legal smoking age to 18 and increasing the price of tobacco. This has led to a 50% drop in the number of smokers aged 12-17 since 2001.
  • The Russian Federation informed the session that it has introduced a federal law on tobacco control, in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the aim being to reduce smoking levels in the country to 30%.
  • France called for the momentum to be maintained or stepped up in meeting the MDGs, highlighting concerns on the increasing numbers of people infected with HIV, particularly among injecting drug users, as well as the hidden threat of Hepatitis C.

Locations and dates of future Regional Committee sessions

Member States agreed that:

  • the sixty-fourth session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe will take place on 15-18 September 2014, in Copenhagen, Denmark;
  • the sixty-fifth session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe will take place on 14-17 September 2015, in Vilnius, Lithuania;
  • the sixty-sixth session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe will take place on 12-15 September 2016, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Statement by nongovernmental organizations

Mrs Mary Higgins, Board Member of the International Confederation of Midwives, made a joint statement on behalf of her organization and nine other NGOs. Thanking the Regional Committee for its work, Mrs Higgins looked forward to greater collaboration with WHO/Europe and Member States in the development and implementation of programmes and through regular meetings.

Biennial collaboration agreements signed

During the Regional Committee session, four biennial collaborative agreements were signed between WHO/Europe and Croatia, Slovenia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Tajikistan. These agreements define the priorities for and areas of joint work in 2014-2015.

Closing of the session

In closing the session, Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, thanked the Ministry of Health of Turkey, Member States, partners and civil society representatives for the agreements reached and the focus on implementation during the session. “This Regional Committee will be remembered for its consensus-building atmosphere, where we worked in harmony”, she said.