Minister of Health of Lithuania visits WHO/Europe to discuss key priorities and collaboration

WHO/D. Barrett

On 6 July 2017, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab welcomed Minister of Health of Lithuania Professor Aurelijus Veryga for an official visit to WHO/Europe in Copenhagen, Denmark. The visit provided an opportunity for Dr Jakab and Professor Veryga to discuss ways in which WHO/Europe can work with, in and for Lithuania in order to strengthen collaboration and implement the biennial collaborative agreement for 2016–2017.

Ms Radvile Jakaitiene, Head of the International Cooperation Division of the Ministry of Health, and Ms Jane Hanel of the Lithuanian Embassy in Denmark accompanied Professor Veryga. Ms Ingrida Zurlyte, Head of the WHO Country Office in Lithuania, also accompanied the delegation.

At the outset of the visit, the Regional Director provided background on the new WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who began his term on 1 July 2017. She also outlined the Health 2020 policy framework and its alignment with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, underscoring the importance of working to reduce inequities in the WHO European Region.

Dr Jakab congratulated the delegation on the work done to reduce alcohol consumption in Lithuania. She expressed support for the country’s policies related to alcohol, including a strong piece of legislation passed by Parliament on 1 June 2017.

Professor Veryga expressed thanks for this support. He also explained that challenges remain in Lithuania, particularly in terms of excessive alcohol consumption, mental health issues – especially suicides – and tuberculosis (TB). He raised the topics of implementing electronic health infrastructure and reducing the price of pharmaceuticals.

The meeting also addressed strengthening primary health care and adjusting the way it is delivered, based on the growing problem of noncommunicable diseases and patients requiring treatment for multiple conditions. Dr Jakab emphasized that health systems are currently set up to deal with individual diseases, but must adopt the cross-sectoral approaches required by this changing context.

Additionally, Professor Veryga expressed concern about anti-vaccine sentiment in the country, the high level of antibiotic consumption and overtreatment of children who have tested positive for TB. He stated that multidrug-resistant TB and meningitis both pose problems for Lithuania, though vaccination efforts are helping for the latter.

During his visit, Professor Veryga also had the opportunity to meet with directors from WHO/Europe’s 5 technical divisions. Additional key topics for the visit included planning and managing health-care infrastructure and planning human resources for health-care systems.