Day 2 highlights: Dr Hans Kluge nominated next WHO Regional Director for Europe

Member States of the WHO European Region nominated Dr Hans Kluge of Belgium as the next WHO Regional Director for Europe during a private session on Day 2 of the 69th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe (RC69).

Speaking in plenary after his nomination, Dr Kluge said, “Member States want to see an agile WHO/Europe providing a compass for better health in the Region. They want a very pragmatic toolbox for accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. We have to take into account global health, the regional context, but also countries’ cultural and health system specificities.”

He explained that upon becoming Regional Director, he would seek to strengthen WHO/Europe as a centre of excellence that provides concrete help to countries to increase impact at the country level. Dr Kluge also stressed the importance of partnerships and pledged to establish a participatory approach with staff.

Describing the challenges ahead for the Region, Dr Kluge concluded, “The road is long, the mountains are steep, the instruments are few, but the solidarity is great.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, congratulated Dr Kluge, adding, “From your nomination, you have earned the confidence and trust of Member States. This is a great privilege but also a great responsibility. We should work together to deliver results to the people we serve.”

Several Member States then took the floor to congratulate Dr Kluge and offer him their full support, and to commend all the candidates for an informative and fair campaign.

Delegates also expressed their deep appreciation for Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab’s leadership as Regional Director, describing it as a “strong legacy”.

Following today’s nomination, Dr Kluge’s candidacy will be submitted to WHO’s Executive Board next year. He is due to take up the new post in February 2020.

Also during the private meeting, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom were nominated to the WHO Executive Board, and Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria and Switzerland were elected to the Standing Committee of the Regional Committee.

Promoting health equity in the WHO European Region

Resuming after the panel discussion yesterday, this agenda item began with short video about Mr Mirjan Mesiček, a “Voice of the Region” from Slovenia. Mr Mesiček explains why everyone should have access to integrated services that support health equity in order to flourish in life and in health.

Ms Christine Brown, Head of the WHO European Office for Investment for Health and Development, summarized the discussions. She noted that as we understand the conditions influencing health equity, we should now focus on whole-of-society action and solutions.

Ms Brown underlined that the health sector must champion health equity by using opportunities in lawmaking, offering trainings, incentivizing pro-equity behaviour in the private sector and engaging with nongovernmental organizations, all while building on the knowledge and experience of those at risk of being left behind.

Delegates of several Member States and observers took to the floor to express their support for the Health Equity Status Report and tools, and their thanks for the high-level conference on accelerating progress for equity in health, held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in June 2019.

Specific reflections focused on:

  • the need for a multisectoral approach to address health equity, based on evidence;
  • the importance of taking account of gender equality and addressing the gender bias in health;
  • the importance of encouraging close collaboration with local authorities to deliver health equity;
  • the desire for WHO to provide models of intersectoral governance, and to highlight the advantages of intersectoral services;
  • the need to address the lack of access to palliative care across the Region; and
  • the need to recognize the value and contribution of civil society bodies.

The resolution on health equity, which urges Member States to work towards placing health equity at the centre of government decision-making, was adopted by consensus.

Lessons learned from Health 2020 implementation

In adopting and implementing the European policy framework Health 2020, European Member States put in place principles and systems that reflect the cross-cutting nature of health and well-being. This has ensured the Region’s preparedness for the breadth and complexity of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In her opening statement, Dr Jakab highlighted Health 2020’s contribution to improving citizens’ health across the Region by providing countries with a guiding framework to align their health policies. She also emphasized the important role of various networks, such as the South-eastern Europe Health Network, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Small Countries Initiative and others, to strengthen intercountry and intersectoral cooperation, policy development and health promotion.

However, she stated, “We have not achieved as much as hoped in the area of equity in health.” Dr Jakab reminded the Committee that inequalities still scar the Region.

Panellists in the subsequent discussion made several points, including the following:

  • Health 2020 has brought health policy-making to a more central position. The focus must now be on evidence-based implementation.
  • The European Union will be looking at the bigger picture of health and working with a more holistic approach, contributing to overall sustainability in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • Organizations such as WHO provide unbiased, reliable evidence.
  • Countries’ individual experiences of health system reform highlight the vital importance of political will and leadership at every stage of the process, and of working between sectors and together with WHO. Interdepartmental alliances also play a key role.
  • The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and implementing Health 2020 is vital if we are to achieve healthier cities and healthier people living within them.
  • Social determinants of health need to be considered in policy implementation
  • Urban diplomacy is key to improving the health and well-being of citizens.

The debate that followed highlighted the need for: collaboration; gender equality and gender equity in health; awareness that health is the precondition for social, societal and economic prosperity; policy coherence; health literacy; meaningful participation of youth; ethical leadership; and dedication to listening to all partners at the table.

The Regional Committee adopted the draft resolution on lessons learned from the implementation of Health 2020 by consensus.

Publication: “Better health for Europe: more equitable and sustainable”

This book, launched on Day 2 of RC69, brings together reflections on the work of WHO/Europe over the past 10 years. It includes extensive testimonials from many Member States, partners and staff. Dr Jakab explained that the book collates public health learning, and expressed the hope that the reflections it contains will enable a critical assessment of WHO/Europe’s work as both a centre of technical expertise and an agent of change.

Regional Director’s awards for health

During a lunchtime session, Dr Jakab celebrated the exceptional contribution of several individuals to improving public health in the Region: Professor Róza Ádány, Dr Richard Alderslade, the late Ms Laura Brennan, Dr Ray Busuttil, Professor Ilona Kickbusch, Dr Mihály Kökény, Professor Martin McKee, Dr Haik Nikogosian and Professor Tomris Türmen.

World Patient Safety Day

17 September 2019 was the first World Patient Safety Day. Noting the alarming fact that every day more than 7000 people die due to unsafe care – 5 every minute – Dr Tedros underlined the importance of making patients and their families partners in care, and called on everyone to speak up for patient safety.

“When people are empowered to take charge of their own care, when they are listened to, informed and consulted, when their needs and preferences are respected, the odds of errors and harm are dramatically reduced,” he said.

Book launch and diplomatic actions for migrant health

The book “Health diplomacy: spotlight on refugees and migrants”, which presents ways to negotiate and navigate national and subnational instruments and frameworks, was launched during a technical briefing on the topic. Contributors to the book noted that migration and health has become a politicized issue, and introduced the concept of migration diplomacy based on that of health diplomacy.

Dr Santino Severoni, Special Adviser on Migration and Health at WHO/Europe, walked the audience through the evolution of WHO/Europe’s work on migration and health in recent years. The need for evidence-based public health arguments to inform migration policies provided an impetus for the work, he explained. That all sectors have a role to play in diplomacy for migrant health was a common message from the panellists.

Emergency Medical Team (EMT) awarded WHO Classification Certificate

The Portuguese EMT from the National Institute of Medical Emergencies received the WHO Classification Certificate and the EMT flag from Dr Tedros at a ceremony on Monday. After completing the WHO verification process, the EMT was deployed to Mozambique to provide support to the people affected by the tropical cyclone Idai earlier this year.

There are 27 classified EMTs globally, of which 13 are in the European Region. An additional 30 EMTs in the Region are in the process of receiving classification.

Biennial collaborative agreements (BCAs)

Two BCAs were signed for 2020–2021 between Dr Jakab on behalf of WHO/Europe and Dr Vladimir Karanik, Minister of Health of Belarus, and the Hon. Christopher Fearne, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health of Malta. BCAs provide a practical framework for collaboration in line with national health priorities and WHO capacities.

Highlights for Day 3

  • Keynote speech by Ms Anne Bucher, Director-General, European Commission, Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety
  • WHO transformation and its implications for the Region
  • Putting countries at the centre in the Region
  • Accelerating primary health care in the Region