Day 3 highlights: adoption of strategy on physical activity and roadmap for tobacco control

The strategy and the roadmap for the European Region, adopted by the 65th session of the Regional Committee (RC65), will contribute to achieving the global goal of a 25% reduction in premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) by 2025.

Physical activity strategy for the WHO European Region 2016–2025

WHO estimates that more than one third of adults and two thirds of adolescents in Europe are insufficiently active. Dr Joao Breda, WHO/Europe's Programme Manager for Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, presented the strategy, which aims to inspire governments and stakeholders to work towards increasing levels of physical activity, and includes numerous examples of good practice from countries. It focuses exclusively on policies and action to promote health-enhancing physical activity.

RC65 unanimously endorsed the strategy for physical activity. Member States found it an excellent framework for further developing national policies, and highlighted the initiatives they have taken. They stressed the need for action early in life, to give everybody the best possible start and to promote healthy ageing, and called for an intersectoral approach involving schools; the education, urban planning and transport sectors; and health professionals.

Roadmap to make tobacco "a thing of the past"

50 countries in the European Region are parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international public health treaty to halt the globalization of the tobacco epidemic, which came into force 10 years ago. Although some European countries are global leaders in tobacco control, overall implementation of FCTC is still relatively low. Despite the decline in smoking prevalence among men and women in the Region since 2000, women's tobacco use in Europe is higher than that in all other WHO regions.

Ms Kristina Mauer-Stender, WHO/Europe's Programme Manager for Tobacco Control, outlined a new roadmap of action to strengthen FCTC implementation in the Region, developed through technical and political consultations with Member States. The roadmap's target is a minimum 30% relative reduction in the prevalence of current tobacco use in people aged 15 or over by 2025. Action to "denormalize tobacco" – such as enforcing smoke-free legislation, especially in children's environments; enforcing comprehensive bans on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and increasing public awareness to prevent young people from starting to smoke – would achieve this goal.

Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, Head of the FCTC Secretariat, described the efforts to end smoking as a battle against a "powerful and pernicious enemy", and cautioned against complacency and inaction: "winning the argument but losing the battle". She called on all stakeholders – legislators, ministers, civil society, journalists – to do their duty to the public and take the effective action detailed in the roadmap.

RC65 adopted the roadmap. A representative from France expressed several countries' commitment to implementing standard packaging for tobacco products, and to working together to protect legislation from legal challenges by the tobacco industry. Other speakers:

  • noted that the roadmap will contribute to achieving the global NCD goal of a 25% reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 2025;
  • called on the remaining 3 Member States in the Region to endorse the FCTC and for more countries to ratify the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products;
  • noted the importance of preventing children from taking up smoking; and
  • said that involving civil society in introducing smoke-free policies is instrumental in changing public perceptions of public health measures.

Strengthening health systems towards people-centredness

Dr Hans Kluge, Director of the Division of Health Systems and Public Health at WHO/Europe, set forth a vision to ensure that European health systems meet people's needs and reflect their values. Priorities in strengthening health systems include moving from a fragmented disease response to a strong primary health care that integrates essential public health operations, and gaining universal health coverage throughout the Region. Means to accomplish a more people-centred European health system include building processes for transformation, innovating in technology and NCDs, discussing and analysing human resources for health, building capacity, and working through an international platform and partnerships. A member of the Standing Committee of the Regional Committee (SCRC) from Estonia expressed the SCRC's support for the values of solidarity, equity and participation outlined by Dr Kluge.

RC65 unanimously supported the vision, and outlined several areas for increased focus, including both external and internal migration, to avoid brain drain in some countries and resource depletion in others; ageing populations and their related challenges; NCDs; the availability of medicines; the need for transparency; efficient use of resources; health education and literacy; and RC65's theme, the need for intersectoral and intergovernmental cooperation.

Several nongovernmental organizations described their priorities and willingness to support and work with WHO and Member States to make people-centred care a reality.

Technical briefing on evidence-informed policy-making in the WHO European Region

Chaired by Dr Vesna Kerstin Petric, of the Ministry of Health of Slovenia, the briefing reported on the progress made in evidence-informed policy-making (EIP), and explored expectations for future support and proposals for the next steps in strengthening it in the European Region. This progress included developing an accelerated roadmap to enhance EIP and supporting 3 countries in introducing it through the Evidence-informed Policy Network (EVIPNet) Europe initiative.

Biennial collaboration agreement (BCA) signed between Croatia and WHO/Europe

The Ministry of Health of Croatia and WHO/Europe signed a BCA, setting priorities for their joint work in 2016–2017.

Highlights for Thursday

  • Regional plan of implementation of the programme budget for 2016–2017
  • Address by Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety
  • Progress reports on:
    • multidrug- and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis in the WHO European Region;
    • the Millennium Development Goals in the European Region
    • the future of the European environment and health process
    • behaviour change strategies and health: the role of health systems
    • stewardship/governance of health systems 
    • implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005) in the Region