Health ministers discuss policy responses to economic crisis

WHO/Brian Cassar

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director General; Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe; Mr Lawrence Gonzi, Prime Minister of Malta; Dr Hans Kluge, Director, Division of Health Systems and Public Health, WHO Regional Office for Europe and other participants of the ministerial lunch on Tuesday 11 September, 2012, RC 62, Malta

Health ministers from the WHO European Region this week discussed strategies for developing people-centred health systems on the sidelines of the sixty-second session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in Malta. At a lunch meeting hosted by the Prime Minister of Malta, Mr Lawrence Gonzi , they discussed the way their health systems can be reformed in response to the economic crisis.

Health systems in countries have responded differently to the financial crisis: some were better prepared than others to cope with the downward pressure on budgets. The importance of preparing during economic good times for future downturns has become clear in the past 4 years since WHO/Europe organized a meeting on “Health in times of global economic crisis” in Oslo in April 2009. Highlights of WHO’s policy work with Member States over the past 4 years and a recent survey conducted by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies were presented at the ministerial lunch.

Health ministers from Belgium, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Turkey outlined some of the measures they have taken to reform health systems in response to fiscal tightening. Together with the support of the Norwegian Government, WHO/Europe is now preparing for a follow-up meeting in April 2013 in Oslo to review in detail the policy lessons from the past 4 years.

Dr Hans Kluge, Director of Health System and Public Health of WHO/Europe, presented the new operational approach his division to health system strengthening. At the heart of the operational approach is providing support to Member States to examine and scale up delivery of people-centred core services in areas that are of high priority for improving health, by removing health system barriers. It is not a new health systems framework or strategy, but a different way of applying the work done on health system strengthening to ensure closer collaboration with the disease-related programmes to improve health outcomes.

As part of its work in health system strengthening, WHO/Europe is organizing the Flagship Course on Health System Strengthening with a focus on noncommunicable diseases later this month with 50 participants from 15 countries of the Region.