Speech by Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark at the fifty-ninth session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe

14 September 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark

Mr. Chairman, Director General, Regional Director, honourable ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

As patron of the World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe it is an honour for me to have the opportunity to address an assembly of health officials representing the 53 member states of the European Region.

As experts and policy makers you are well aware of the many health challenges facing the European Region. You are forced to make difficult decisions about prioritizing health issues everyday.

Since becoming patron of the Regional Office my primary focus has been on raising awareness of vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization.

WHO’s commitment in this area is well known and respected, particularly for its success in the eradication of smallpox and for the declaration of the European Region as polio free in 2002.

Apart from safe drinking water, no other health intervention has reduced diseases and mortality as effectively and safely as immunization. However, large discrepancies in population groups still persist and unvaccinated children can be found in a number of Member States in the Region. We must strive to achieve greater success in this area.

The Regional Office has been working hard to promote immunization. One initiative is Immunization Week, which is aimed at stimulating and strengthening immunization programmes and communicating the necessity of high immunization coverage in order to combat vaccine-preventable diseases.

In 2008, I travelled to Slovenia during its Presidency of the European Union.  The First Lady of Slovenia joined me in launching the 2008 European Immunization Week. 32 countries, covering three-quarters of the Region’s population participated in this initiative. Close to 2 million vaccines were administered during this week, and an impressive range of advocacy activities were held.  Most importantly, all countries reported that they believed that the European Immunization Week would have a positive effect on vaccination uptake in the future.

In April this year, the Regional Office launched the fourth European Immunization week.  In my capacity as patron and in-line with the new communication strategy, I issued a statement that was launched together with a new video on immunization on WHOs website. The video proved to be very powerful in communicating WHO’s recommendations, and quickly became one of the most popular in its category around the world. It was viewed more than 10,000 times in just 2 weeks, and generated more than 4,000 visits to the European Immunization Week website. This was more than 7 times the number of visits made during the 2008 campaign.

Immunization saves lives. It is the right of every child to grow up healthy and vaccinated against those diseases that so easily can be prevented.  I look forward to continuing my involvement in the European Immunization Week and contributing where I can to raising awareness of vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization.

For the Regional Office the Millennium Development Goals constitute a fundamental framework for action across the Region.  In order to reach the Millenium Development Goals international organizations, national governments, and local and national community groups must all work together to address the socio-economic determinants of health, in order to reduce the health inequities affecting women and children across the entire European region.

As patron of the Regional Office for Europe, I would like to support the efforts of Member States and the Regional Office in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Reducing the health inequities among women, both within and between the countries in the European Region, is extremely important.  So is ensuring their access to well-performing health systems and good reproductive health services.  These issues affect the whole Region: even some of the wealthier countries struggle to reduce maternal death among the more vulnerable or marginalized groups.

Earlier this year, I attended a number of events related to maternal health and child mortality.  I was shocked to learn that every minute a woman dies during pregnancy or birth. “When a woman becomes pregnant, she has one foot in the grave”, these are the words of Dr. Grace Kodingo from Tchad.  An inspiring woman who lives with the frustration everyday, that she has the skills and knowledge to save lives, but her environment prevents it.

Very small interventions can save lives.
In a modern world it is hard to believe that women risk their lives in creating the next generation. Maternal mortality is one of the most overlooked human catastrophes in the world. Therefore, my focus will be on the health of women and children, within the wider framework of the Millennium Development Goals. 

My work with WHO will take place both at the national and regional level. I will support the Regional Office in using its knowledge and experience to assist countries, particularly those with difficulties in achieving these Goals.  I would also like to contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals related to women’s and children’s health at a global level.

In conclusion, I would like to add that improving health and reaching the Millennium Development Goals, is a challenging task that requires strong commitment, consistent action and the involvement of many people. Together we can achieve great results to improve the health and lives of the people of the European Region,  particularly vulnerable children and women.

I know that this is your ambition and that of the World Health Organization, and I look forward to supporting you in your journey to achieving it.

Good luck and thank you.