Day 2 of the World Health Assembly: Highlights for the European Region

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, addressed the World Health Assembly on 24 May 2016. She stressed the links between climate change and health, including those related to the spread of vector-borne diseases. Her address was followed by a technical briefing that underscored the need for multisectoral action for achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and agreement on a new resolution on meeting those goals.

Sustainable Development Goals

Delegates agreed to strengthen national health systems to progress towards universal health coverage, as a key means for achieving the health-related SDGs.

The resolution recommends strengthening of a range of essential public health functions. This will involve investing adequate, sustainable resources in health systems strengthening; enhancing the education, recruitment and retention of health workers; tackling social, environmental and economic determinants of health; and improving the monitoring and analysis of health outcomes.

Many European Member States made interventions during plenary discussions on health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Noting the challenges, countries expressed their commitment to the SDGs and underlined the central role of health in achieving all the Goals. The delegate of Sweden noted, "It is a blueprint we must take for the future of humanity, and health is more central than anything else". 

Several countries commented that the development of national health plans in accordance with the European Health Policy, Health 2020, ensures that they are well placed for implementing the SDGs. Both Health 2020 and the Sustainable Development Agenda introduce a "new way of thinking", reaching across sectors, building resilient societies, addressing inequalities and ensuring that no one is left behind. Many speakers underlined WHO's unique global leadership role and the need for collaboration among all the sectors that influence the social determinants of health in order to achieve the SDGs.

Other highlights from the European Region

Common issues raised by European Member States in plenary included the challenges and health needs of refugees and migrants, a new focus on the global epidemic of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), the importance of WHO's emergency reform – improving its ability to respond to health threats – addressing antimicrobial resistance, continuing health system strengthening – including access to care and medicines – and renewed focus on health promotion and disease prevention. 

The Member States in the European Region whose representatives spoke in plenary were: Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and Turkey. 

Taking forward the Global Strategy on Women's, Children's and Adolescent's Health

Delegates from several countries in the European Region also spoke during discussions about the health of women, children and adolescents. Reference was made to the importance of access to sexual and reproductive health services, empowering women and investing in girls and women as catalysts for development. Broad support was given to the operational plan for the Strategy.

Accelerating the prevention and control of NCDs

An evening event on how the United Nations inter-agency task force can support countries in the prevention and control of NCDs by 2030 was co-organized by the delegation of the Russian Federation. It recognized the progress made in coordinating global targets, a monitoring system and action plan for NCDs and underlined its leadership in monitoring NCDs and its willingness to support other Member States in tackling the global NCD epidemic. 

Information and communication technologies for universal health coverage

WHO/Europe presented the European eHealth report at an evening side event organized to discuss strategic opportunities in ICT for the health sector and to identify opportunities for improving alignment between countries. The findings of the report include the fact that good eHealth requires much more than technology; it must also have structures, processes and legislation. National strategies on eHealth and funding are essential, and e-learning should be institutionalized.

Bilateral meeting with the Republic of Moldova

During a meeting between Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, and Dr Ruxanda Glavan, Minister of Health of the Republic of Moldova, the Minister reported that she will soon present new national plans for both tuberculosis and diabetes. She said that WHO's flagship course on health systems strengthening had helped in preparing the plans.