South-eastern countries sign historic agreement on public health

Ministry of Health, Albania

SEEHN members sign agreement

On 10 November 2010, the nine members of the South-eastern Europe Health Network (SEEHN) – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – signed the first intercountry legal agreement on public health ever made in this part of the WHO European Region. The agreement paves the way to set up a SEEHN secretariat in Skopje as an independent legal entity. It will be a small international organization, following the rules of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

The agreement was signed during SEEHN’s twenty-fourth meeting, which was held in Tirana, Albania on 10–12 November 2010, under the Albanian Presidency of SEEHN. The meeting also provided an opportunity for members to review progress in public health reforms to strengthen their capacity to implement the International Health Regulations.

SEEHN was established in 2001, with the joint support of the Council of Europe and WHO/Europe and within the framework of the social cohesion initiative of the Stability Pact for South East Europe. The secretariat is one of two important pieces of infrastructure that are being established to secure the sustainability of SEEHN for regional cooperation on public health, and ownership by member countries. The second is the creation of regional health development centres.

Member States are preparing for the Third Health Ministers’ Forum to be held in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina on 13–14 October 2011. Key partners are likely to include WHO/Europe, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the Northern Dimension Partnership for Public Health and Social Well-being and a number of European Union countries.

Regional health development centres

SEEHN’s twenty-fourth meeting also included a review of overall progress in the establishment and work of the regional health development centres (RHDCs) agreed in a memorandum of understanding signed by Member States in 2009. The RHDCs facilitate regional cooperation in agreed public health areas of mutual interest; four had been established in:

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (on mental health);
  • Croatia (on organ transplantation and donation);
  • the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (on public health services); and
  • Romania (on blood products and transfusion).

On 11 November 2010, the fifth RHDC – dealing with communicable disease surveillance, pandemic preparedness and the implementation of the International Health Regulations – was inaugurated at the National Institute of Public Health of Albania, in Tirana. It was established with political, technical, financial and logistical support from the Government of Albania.