10 years of the South-eastern Europe Health Network

Predrag Milašinović

Participants at the Third Health Ministers' Forum

On 13 October 2011, the first day of the Third Health Ministers’ Forum for countries in the South-eastern Europe Health Network (SEEHN), participants recognized the strong collaboration that had grown over the past decade.

During the opening, Sredoje Nović, Minister of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Rusmir Mesihović, Federal Minister of Health; Ranko Škrbić, Minister of Health and Social Welfare of Republika Srpska; Željko Komšić, Chair of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska; and Hidajet Biščević, Secretary General of the SEEHN Regional Cooperation Council, spoke of how nine countries (now ten, with Israel joining) came together to work on both the technical and political levels to improve health in the region. SEEHN has provided not only leadership and vision but also a medium through which policy can be translated into action.

In her address, Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, described SEEHN as: “a vital multicountry initiative from the past, and an institution for the future that is driving health system and public health development of its member countries through regional cooperation, knowledge and practice sharing; building of common capacities; and development of shared visions and dialogue, trust and support”.

Representatives of partner organizations – including the European Commission, the International Organization for Migration, the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe Development Bank – expressed their continuing support for SEEHN. Representatives of each member country spoke, underlining their commitment to work under way and providing ideas for the way forward. Countries agreed that SEEHN has sufficient know-how, mutual responsibility and skills to meet the challenges ahead and promote health. Key points raised by countries included:

  • the need for coordinated fund raising to ensure that, despite the financial crisis, SEEHN can carry out its plans;
  • the importance of intersectoral collaboration, even though it is challenging and time consuming;
  • the assistance that SEEHN could provide to countries seeking accession to the European Union;
  • SEEHN’s keeping health and well-being high on the political agenda;
  • The possibility that SEEHN could provide the vehicle for adapting Health 2020 from the regional to the national level;
  • SEEHN’s function in facilitating the exchange of examples of good practice in including health in all policies;
  • the importance of communicating about the work being done; and
  • the need for evidence-based research.

Later, discussion focused on health in all policies and the social determinants of health and inequalities. In a keynote speech, a WHO/Europe expert described the health inequalities persisting in the WHO European Region and the south-eastern Europe subregion. He outlined three progressive levels of health in all policies: cooperating with other sectors for health, coordinating policies with other sectors and ultimately integrating policies to maximize the positive impact on health.

The day ended with an award ceremony in which all countries’ invaluable contributions to SEEHN were recognized. Over 10 years, SEEHN has evolved from an egg to an ugly duckling and now a fully fledged swan.