The year ahead: key events for the WHO European Region in 2019


The coming year promises to be a busy and exciting one in the WHO European Region. WHO/Europe and Member States will maintain their focus on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and embarking on the 13th General Programme of Work, WHO’s global plan for the next 5 years. The Region will build on the global pledge of 1 billion more people benefiting from universal health coverage, 1 billion more protected from health emergencies and 1 billion more enjoying better health and well-being. At the same time, the Region will take stock of progress to implement Health 2020 and will place greater emphasis on specific areas of work such as digital health and health equity, with major events covering these topics planned for the first half of the year.

The list below offers a first look at some of the key moments for health in the European Region coming up over the next 12 months.

WHO Symposium on the Future of Digital Health Systems in the European Region (6–8 February, Copenhagen, Denmark): The Symposium will bring together evidence and experience to show how governments and organizations can adopt digital health to reduce inequalities and improve the health and well-being of populations. It will help policy-makers prepare for the digitalization of health systems and will examine concrete actions required to accelerate the process of digitalization. The Symposium aims to contribute to the development of a European vision and roadmap for the digitalization of national health systems.

Ministerial meeting on the Action Plan to Improve Public Health Preparedness and Response (12–14 February, Istanbul, Turkey): The high-level meeting will bring together representatives from Member States to galvanize their commitment for full implementation of the first Action Plan to Improve Public Health Preparedness and Response in the WHO European Region. The Action Plan aims to strengthen and maintain national capacities to effectively prevent, prepare for, detect and respond to public health threats, and to provide assistance to affected countries, when necessary. The meeting will set out the path for a shared vision of coordinated governance and accountability, establish a monitoring and evaluation framework, and identify key areas of action to successfully carry out the Plan at the country level.

Sixth High-level Meeting of Small Countries (31 March–2 April, San Marino): Equity will be the overarching theme of the meeting, ahead of the launch of WHO/Europe’s forthcoming Health Equity Status Report. This will allow the 8 countries of the Small Countries Initiative to continue acting as pioneers in support of the strategic agenda of WHO/Europe. For the first time, the initiative will invite Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia to attend as observers.

Time to Deliver – WHO European High-level Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases “Achieving Sustainable Development Goal targets in the WHO European Region through prevention and management of noncommunicable diseases over the life-course” (9–10 April, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan): While countries of the European Region have made significant progress in addressing the global noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) agenda, now is the time to review advances and decide on next steps. The Conference in Ashgabat will follow up on the commitments made at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs in 2018, and will seek to help countries with implementation – particularly in terms of strengthening the integration of mental health and air pollution in the NCD agenda. It will focus on how to convert global and regional commitments into actions at the country level across sectors, with multiple stakeholders and in different settings.

High-level meeting on health equity (11–13 June, Ljubljana, Slovenia): Attention to health equity, gender equality and the right to the highest attainable standard of health has never been more important, and WHO/Europe is working to ensure that equity is central to the implementation of its programmes, its multiagency and multisectoral policies and its partnerships. The problems and challenges of health inequities are well known, and it is time to focus on the solutions that generate and protect the conditions needed for all to be able to live healthy prosperous lives. New evidence, equity-focused metrics relevant to the European Region, and a wealth of good practices from countries give us reason to be confident.

The health equity meeting will bring together Member States, international organizations and civil society to take stock of progress and set the European action agenda on health equity for the next 10 years. WHO/Europe’s new Health Equity Status Report will be launched at the event, along with a suite of tools for Member States and partners to use in accelerating progress towards health equity by addressing the commercial, social, economic and environmental determinants of health. The meeting outcome statement will be used as the basis for a proposed resolution on health equity at the 69th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe.

25th annual meeting of the Regions for Health Network (26–28 June, Meuse-Rhine Region): The 25th anniversary of the WHO Regions for Health Network (RHN) will be marked at the annual conference, which is being jointly organized with the European Committee of the Regions in the Meuse-Rhine Region – the only cross-border region in the RHN. The theme for the meeting will be “keeping people at the centre of health and sustainable development policies”, with a focus on equity and involving citizens in the process of health policy-making.

United Nations high-level meeting on universal health coverage (September, New York): The global push towards universal health coverage (UHC) – mirrored in WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work, where UHC is 1 of 3 strategic priorities – will take centre-stage during a high-level meeting to be held during the United Nations General Assembly.

69th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe and election of new Regional Director (16–19 September, Copenhagen, Denmark): The European Region’s governing body will meet to discuss and take collective action on major health issues, such as health equity and primary health care. The decisions taken at the Regional Committee meeting feed into policies that drive much of the action towards improved health in the Region. Additionally, Member States will elect a new Regional Director, as Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab’s second term as WHO Regional Director for Europe draws to a close.

Fifth High-level Meeting on Transport, Health and Environment (22–24 October, Vienna, Austria): The WHO/United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP) is a policy framework that fosters partnerships across sectors and actors to achieve environmentally friendly, economically viable, socially fair and healthy mobility all over Europe. The Fifth High-level Meeting is expected to result in the adoption of the Vienna Declaration on Transport, Health and Environment, focusing on the challenges of achieving clean, zero-emission mobility and transport in Europe and the adoption of the first Pan-European Master Plan For Cycling Promotion.

Fifth session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP5) to the WHO/UNECE Protocol on Water and Health (19–21 November, Belgrade, Serbia): The MOP meets every 3 years and is the main governing body of the Protocol. This year the focus will be on aligning the work under the Protocol with the SDGs, specifically enhancing activity towards translating the aspirations of SDG 6 on water and sanitation for regional and national contexts.

Romania’s, followed by Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union (January–June, and July–December 2019): For the trio Presidency (Romania, Finland and Croatia) priorities for public health will focus on access to health-care for all European Union citizens, ensuring patient safety and mobility, and harnessing the opportunities of new medical technologies. Work to address the demographic deficit and population ageing will continue, and further cooperation in transplantation and organ donation is planned. Specific meetings during the Romanian Presidency will include a focus on antimicrobial resistance (28 February–1 March); the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) meeting of health ministers (15 April); a workshop on vaccination (10–11 May); and a meeting addressing cancer (29–30 May).