Health ministers of south-eastern Europe meet to share good practices, discuss health challenges

Ministers of health from the 9 member states of the South-eastern Europe Health Network (SEEHN) and the partner state of Slovenia gathered in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 10 July 2018 for a meeting focused on ensuring primary health care for an ageing population.

The meeting also served as a follow-up to the South-eastern Europe Health Ministerial Meeting on Immunization, held in Podgorica, Montenegro, on 20 February 2018, and to the 4th South-eastern Europe Health Ministerial Forum, held in Chisinau, Republic of Moldova, in 2017. In Chisinau, all ministers of SEEHN member countries signed the Chisinau Pledge to work towards the health goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The meeting in Tel Aviv provided an opportunity for ministers to share good practices from their countries, especially in the area of healthy ageing. Israel in particular shared innovations in policies and technologies for their ageing population.

The meeting also served as a platform to receive feedback from the ministers on actions taken after signing the Statement of Intent on Immunization in Podgorica. Discussions and experiences shared there have been instrumental in strengthening further cross-border collaboration on various common health challenges faced by SEEHN member countries.

WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab set the scene for the meeting by reviewing the progress that member countries have made towards implementing the SDGs and the Chisinau Pledge, saying, “We should not forget that the right to health and leaving no one behind are at the centre of development.” Dr Jakab underlined the importance of moving towards universal health coverage, along with the vital role that strengthening health systems and primary health care must play in this process.

Member of the Knesset Rabbi Yakov Litzman, Deputy Minister of Health of Israel, and Dr Mira Dasic, Director of the SEEHN Secretariat, also provided opening remarks.

Promoting collaboration on a range of health issues

Mr Moshe Bar Siman Tov, Director-General of the Ministry of Health of Israel, addressed the primary topic of caring for an ageing population. He gave a presentation on innovative policies for healthy ageing, which was followed by a roundtable discussion. The meeting also covered a range of important health issues on which SEEHN member countries make efforts to collaborate.

Building on the meeting in Podgorica, the agenda included discussions of the importance of vaccination as a critical public health intervention, and specifically the cross-border joint procurement of vaccines. Ministers had the opportunity to report back on actions taken since the meeting in February. Two separate technical briefings covered the health challenges of ageing, and tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Additionally, an afternoon session offered the chance to discuss the outcomes of the recent high-level conference in Tallinn, Estonia, “Health Systems for Prosperity and Solidarity: leaving no one behind”. The final session of the meeting addressed emergency preparedness for SEEHN member countries, including a briefing on the implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005) and a discussion about concrete ways that WHO can support countries in strengthening their emergency preparedness.

The meeting concluded with the signing of the first Subregional Cooperation Strategy of the WHO Regional Office for Europe by Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab on behalf of WHO/Europe and Dr Dasic on behalf of SEEHN.

Meeting participants included ministers of health, deputy ministers of health and state secretaries from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Israel, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

SEEHN is a political and institutional forum that was established in 2001 to promote peace, reconciliation and health in the south-eastern European region. Its next plenary meeting is scheduled to take place at the end of 2018.