Address by Her Royal Highness, The Crown Princess of Denmark to the 68th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe
Rome, Italy, 17 September 2018
Your Excellency Mr Prime Minister, Director-General, Regional Director, honorable ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is indeed a pleasure to once again, at the beginning of this, the 68th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, have the opportunity to address such a distinguished group of professionals; people who are dedicated to the achievement of good health and well-being for all, at all ages.
Regional Director, dear Zsuzsanna, thank you for the invitation to attend this important session. And thank you to our Italian hosts for their warm hospitality. I hope the incomparable city of Rome will serve as inspiration for us to join together in further shaping and strengthening Europe’s agenda on health and well-being.
When we think about Italy and its people it is often synonymous with “La Dolce Vita”, the sweet life. And it is this zest for life, the passionate wish to ensure that the people of Europe enjoy the healthiest, happiest lives possible, that brings us so fittingly to Rome. The agenda over the coming four days will offer opportunities to make progress on several important issues, issues that are important to all of us.
One of these issues is vaccination. Tremendous progress has been achieved in recent decades in advancing Europeans’ health, education and living standards, and vaccines have played a fundamental part in this progress.
However, recently vaccination has become one of the most discussed issues in Europe, and last month the WHO European Office issued a news release that gave a strong warning to both policy-makers and the public about the increased risks from vaccine-preventable diseases.
“Measles cases hit record high in the European Region” ran the headline. This is unacceptable given that a safe and effective vaccine exists to avoid the 40,000-plus infections that were recorded in the first six months of 2018 alone. And it becomes intolerable when we learn that 37 people have now lost their lives as a consequence of a disease that can be avoided with just two shots of an available vaccine.
These trends are seriously jeopardizing the progress that has been made in our Region towards eliminating measles, as well as rubella. While more countries have interrupted the endemic spread of measles and rubella, we are seeing worrisome setbacks.
Why is this?
It is true that the majority of parents get their children vaccinated according to their national immunization schedules. But to prevent measles and other dangerous diseases from spreading, we know that very high coverage of 95% or more of the population is needed.
Reaching the optimal ‘herd immunity’ level has proven to be difficult in some countries, and in others coverage has even been falling in recent years. The reasons for not vaccinating are many and complex, and are all specific to individual countries and communities. For example, some countries have experienced vaccine stock-outs, some parents mistrust vaccines or have limited access to the health system, some find the local vaccination services inconvenient, and some parents do not realize how serious and even fatal these diseases can be. It is therefore essential that you, the health authorities, analyse and understand the barriers to vaccination and take measures to address these that fit your national context and your people.
It is very timely that midterm progress towards the goals of the European Vaccine Action Plan is under review at this Regional Committee. We are all together in this: I am confident that we will be able to identify the gaps to be filled, actions to be taken to protect each and every one of our children and to set our Region back on track towards finally eliminating these dreadful diseases. Immunization for all is an investment in the health and future of both children and adults and will contribute to achieving both health-related and other global targets set out by the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Global Goals provide a pathway or a framework for development and innovation. They provide a plan for people, prosperity and planet, that strives to leave no one behind. To have any chance of achieving the SDGs, it will require strong collaborative action in critical areas of public health. And tackling antimicrobial resistance is one of the most pressing areas of concern.
I have shown my support in the fight against AMR since 2012. I am convinced that this is one of the major threats of our time to the health of humans and animals and therefore, my support will continue in this case. AMR affects us all, therefore it is essential that this threat is communicated simply and widely, so that everyone has the necessary level of understanding and can act accordingly. It’s important that all relevant sectors of government, private industry and the public work together. We have the knowledge and know-how; there is no excuse not to act.
Europe will dedicate this year’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week to One Health. Some antimicrobials used to treat infectious diseases in animals may be the same or similar to those used for human beings. So, we need to address the rising threat of AMR from multiple perspectives. That is why this week will be dedicated to what is called; One Health. And I also support this approach, as it is - after all - common sense.
As you know, over-use and misuse of antibiotics in both animals and humans is contributing to, even accelerating, the rising threat of antibiotic resistance. It is not enough to work towards responsible use of antibiotics in humans; it is also critical to stop any unnecessary use in rearing livestock for food. In order to reduce the chances that bacteria become resistant, we need to take a holistic approach.
Arising in humans, animals or in the environment, resistant bacteria can spread from one to the other, and from one country to another. AMR does not respect geographic or human–animal borders.
This means that efforts by just one sector cannot prevent or eliminate the problem. What we need is a bold step to a multisectoral approach. We need you, the health sector, to position AMR high at whole-of-government and at whole-of-society level and take common actions to address all risks and drivers that are intertwined in a complex web of human, animal and environmental interactions.
And we need to act across countries, simultaneously. Our Region has always been in the forefront of the fight against AMR. Being in this room together gives us a better chance to reach common solutions. I encourage each and every one of you to embrace the One Health approach and join forces with other sectors and bring together all levels of society to mark World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2018, together with WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organisation for Animal Health.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I mentioned a moment ago, the WHO European Region is often at the forefront of health developments, and this year’s agenda proves no exception. For the first time, this group will discuss a strategy for men’s health. And here the very essence of the strategy is different. It seeks to improve men’s health and well-being through gender responsive approaches, challenging traditional norms around masculinity and calling on us to rethink gender stereotypes and break down the barriers existing between programmes. Its vision is lifelong and intergenerational. Looking at the way in which we live our lives, and how health is interconnected with so many factors, is very much in the spirit of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
The strategy for men’s health points to gender equality as a priority for men’s health, and it highlights transitions in life as important opportunities to improve health for all. Think about one such transition – into fatherhood – that joyous, poignant moment many of us look back on tenderly when we became a parent. This time could present a golden opportunity for men to boost their child’s, their partner’s and their own physical and mental health. When fathers are involved in caring for their child from an early stage, there are health pay-offs. Studies show that “hands on” dads live longer, have fewer physical and mental health problems, are more productive at work, have fewer accidents and express more satisfaction with their lives.
A recent survey of over 1000 fathers in Denmark found that 78% thought more about their health after becoming a father. Over 50% drank less alcohol, and 43% of those who were smokers before, stopped smoking after the birth of their child. This is not only good news for their own health, but also for the health of their partners and children.
We must ensure that fathers can grasp this golden opportunity through involving them in antenatal classes, training health professionals to include partners to a much greater extent, allowing for paternity leave and increasing social acceptance of such leave, reflecting on our own attitudes and behaviours, and so on.
I have long been active in promoting the health of mothers and children. We cannot achieve real and sustainable improvements in maternal and child health without the engagement of men in caregiving and also in their own health.
The Regional Committee agenda is once again a busy one. I wish you stimulating, productive discussions, and robust, forward-looking decisions.
These days present a window of opportunity to stand strong and resolute together in our commitment to improving the health and well-being of every citizen in this richly diverse region.