Day 3 highlights: agreement on women’s health strategy and action plans for HIV and viral hepatitis

WHO

Dr Margaret Chan welcomed the WHO Regional Committee for Europe’s adoption of a European strategy for women’s health as well as action plans for both HIV and viral hepatitis in her plenary address, affirming the WHO European Region’s position at the forefront of global health developments.

Address by Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General

In her final address to the WHO Regional Committee for Europe as WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan emphasized that the Region has been at the forefront of developments in many areas that influence health, including global environmental policy, noncommunicable disease prevention, multisectoral collaboration, whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches, people-centred health systems, mother and child health and the rights of women and girls, and international cooperation in health development.

The Director-General highlighted 3 upcoming events at the United Nations General Assembly of relevance to the Region: the first high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance, a high-level summit on refugees and migrants, and the launch of a report on health employment and economic growth that focuses specifically on future health workforce needs.

Dr Chan also spoke of the continuing need to pursue effective tobacco control measures, and prompted spontaneous applause from delegates when she referred to July’s court ruling to support Uruguay’s right to continue its anti-tobacco policies.

“This is a landmark victory, as it upholds the right of a sovereign government to protect its citizens from a deadly and addictive product, and gives precedence to that right. So ends a cynical attempt by a rich, multinational Goliath to batter a small country with limited resources”, she commented.

In her concluding remarks, the Director-General called on countries to engage with the food industry, in particular to tackle childhood obesity: “Take care of your children. Obesity and overweight in children is society’s fault, not theirs”.

WHO’s work in health emergency management

“WHO is the only organization with universal legitimacy to implement the International Health Regulations (IHR), and I reassure you that we will stay in the driving seat. We will coordinate partners’ technical and financial support to better assist countries in emergency preparedness and response”, said Dr Chan during the session dedicated to the reform of WHO’s work in health emergency management.

The session continued the discussions of Sunday’s informal meeting, presenting the recently established Health Emergency Programme at global and European levels. Reiterating the critical importance of WHO’s leadership in the Programme’s work, countries highlighted the need to ensure:

  • effective partnerships, including with the European Union and its agencies;
  • a strong link between IHR implementation and health system strengthening;
  • sustainable and predictable financing; and
  • the development of skills through trainings and simulation exercises.

European strategy on women’s health and well-being

WHO/Europe developed the Strategy on women’s health and well-being in the WHO European Region through a consultative process in the wake of its adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The new report “Women’s health and well-being in Europe: beyond the mortality advantage” shows that long life expectancy is not the only indicator of success, particularly when many years are not lived in good health. Women living in countries with the highest life expectancy can experience up to 12 years of ill health, and large gender and health inequalities exist across the Region.

An expert discussion with Ms Katja Iversen, Chief Executive Officer of Women Deliver, and Professor Ilona Kickbusch, Director of the Global Health Programme at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Switzerland, underlined the impact that gender inequalities and social, economic, cultural and political determinants of health have on women. “It is about thriving, not just surviving”, said Ms Iverson. “There is ample evidence that it pays to invest considerably in women’s health and well-being.”

Delegates supported and unanimously adopted the Strategy and its resolution, welcoming it as an inspiration for developing gender-responsive policies and national action plans.

Technical briefing on health laboratory strengthening

The briefing provided an overview of the role of laboratories in health emergencies under the IHR, and described WHO/Europe’s Better Labs for Better Health initiative, a partnership to build laboratory capacity across the Region.

The Russian Federation and Sweden offered a snapshot of their work to enhance laboratory capability to provide rapid and reliable results, and to make expertise available to other countries. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan presented their progress in establishing laboratory capacity, including through training.

Technical briefing on WHO/Europe’s work at the country level

The briefing focused on WHO/Europe’s country-level work in various contexts and situations, such as advising ministries of health on technical issues and providing assistance in times of emergency or humanitarian crises. It also clarified the role of WHO country offices in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and implementing Health 2020. Representatives from Greece, Kazakhstan, Malta, the Republic of Moldova and Slovenia shared examples of how WHO/Europe has successfully worked with and supported countries in developing and carrying out national health policies and strategies.

European action plan for the health sector response to HIV

While new HIV infections are decreasing globally, within the Region they have increased by 76% since 2005. WHO/Europe developed the new Action plan for the health sector response to HIV in the WHO European Region through broad consultation in order to fast-track the response and halt the epidemic.

Many delegates took the floor to detail their national activities and express their support for the Action plan. They focused on common themes, including the need to strengthen monitoring across countries; focus on high-risk groups; tackle stigma; ensure financial sustainability and involve civil society as well as high-risk groups themselves. Dr Nicolas Cantau of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria reiterated a common concern regarding late diagnosis of HIV. Mr Michel Kazatchkine, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as well as representatives of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and several nongovernmental organizations all extended their support for the plan.

Member States adopted the resolution to approve the Action plan.

European action plan for the health sector response to viral hepatitis

Member States approved the Action plan for the health sector response to viral hepatitis for the WHO European Region – the first of its kind – with wide consensus. Following on the adoption of a resolution at the World Health Assembly in May 2016 to intensify the global hepatitis response, this Action plan is considered a major step towards the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030.

Many countries shared their national initiatives and applauded the Action plan, noting that it provides a concrete road map for their efforts that can be adapted to local circumstances and resources. They emphasized the importance of hepatitis B vaccination as the most effective tool to prevent the disease, and advocated for combating hepatitis C through raising awareness and increasing access to effective and affordable medicines.

WHO/Europe underlined the need to share information transparently in order to work together more effectively and meet the global and regional goal of elimination.

European action plan for sexual and reproductive health (continued)

Following a rich discussion yesterday, the Secretariat responded to the issues raised by delegates over the Action plan for sexual and reproductive health. Member States adopted the Action plan and its resolution with amendments. Hungary, Poland and Turkey disassociated themselves from the Action plan and requested that their statements be recorded in the official report.

Morning side events

Organizers offered a side event to inform delegates about a report from the High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth that presents the economic case for investing in the health workforce.

A second event introduced a forthcoming joint project of WHO/Europe and the European Commission on Migration and Health Knowledge Management. The project aims to share best practices in care provision for vulnerable migrants and refugees.

Highlights of Day 4

  • Action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases in the WHO European Region
  • Action plan to strengthen the use of evidence, information and research for policy-making in the WHO European Region
  • Progress reports