European Region countries convene to boost emergency preparedness and response


WHO applauds the growing engagement of European Region countries in protecting their people from epidemics, natural disasters, and environmental and humanitarian crises. A 3-day high-level meeting, hosted and financially supported by Germany, concluded in Munich on 15 February 2018, marking a milestone in preparing for and responding to the ever more complex and demanding health emergencies of our times.

“This event brings us one step further in Europe’s ability to detect threats quickly, gauge risks effectively and define the most appropriate, efficient and timely response,” said Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director of Programme Management, Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases, WHO/Europe. “In particular, our approach of linking emergency preparedness with health systems strengthening and essential public health functions represents a real breakthrough on the way to universal health coverage”.

Linking emergency preparedness, health systems and antimicrobial resistance

Over 150 representatives from 43 countries – all of which are signatories of the International Health Regulations (IHR) – and international organizations debated effective ways to accelerate the implementation of the IHR as a means to better equip countries to deal with emergencies. In particular, they discussed synergies among 3 major areas: IHR core capacities, health systems and public health functions, and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

While responsive health systems are an integral part of IHR implementation, efforts to strengthen the IHR core capacities also contribute significantly to improving health systems’ resilience, in a virtuous circle. At the same time, addressing AMR is a priority, given that the increase in resistant bacteria can make disease outbreaks more difficult to control and can increase the burden on health systems.

Progressing towards a regional action plan

The cross linkages between IHR, health systems and public health functions are central to the European Region’s first action plan on emergency preparedness and response, which was initiated in Munich. The 5-year European Action Plan to Improve Public Health Preparedness and Response (2018–2023) draws on the draft global strategic plan and is based on 3 pillars:

  • preparedness: building, maintaining and strengthening IHR core capacities;
  • response: enhancing event management according to IHR requirements;
  • monitoring and evaluation: measuring progress and promoting accountability on IHR implementation.

Based on countries’ input gathered in Munich, WHO/Europe will undertake additional consultations to further shape the regional action plan, which will be presented to Member States at the 68th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September 2018.

Providing a platform for improved collaboration

The IHR provide an international legal framework for countries worldwide to protect people from health emergencies. Most meeting participants confirmed that the IHR have helped countries improve collaboration among different entities and institutions dealing with health emergencies.