South-eastern Europe Health Network opens doors

Predrag Milašinović

Ministers sign agreement: from right, Dr Ante-Zvonimir Golem, Croatia; Mr Sredoje Novic, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Mr Albert Gajo, Albania

Ministers of health in south-eastern Europe extend their influence

“It is a historic moment, which proves our vitality,” said a health minister of one of the nine countries in the South-eastern European Health Network (SEEHN) in describing the decision to open up full membership to other countries beyond its historical and geographical boundaries. The first of these will be Israel. Ministers at the Third Health Ministers’ Forum, meeting in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, welcomed Israel into SEEHN.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said that having Israel as a member would be a win–win situation: SEEHN could learn much from the country’s excellent public health system, and the country would benefit from SEEHN’s good work.

Member countries signed the amendment to the Memorandum of Understanding that allows SEEHN to expand on the eve of the Forum, which started on Thursday, 13 October 2011. The agenda includes such topics as health in all policies and working across sectors for the good of public health.

SEEHN was established in 2001 specifically for the countries in the region, to contribute to peace and stability through a focus on public health. The initial nine members – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – worked closely together on health, and by 2005 were focusing on economic development through public health. Donors became partners, and the collaboration resulted in a strong network involving over 300 experts at all levels, 60 institutions working on public health issues, 6 regional health development centres (addressing specific topics such as noncommunicable disease and antibiotic resistance), and 10 pilot community mental health centres.

The extension of membership was welcomed by the Presidency of SEEHN: Mr Sredoije Novic, Minister of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina; Professor Rusmir Mesihovic, Federal Minister of Health Bosnia and Herzegovina; Professor Ranko Skrbic, Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Republika Srpska; and Mr Admir Candic, from Brcko District Government, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Professor Alex Leventhal, of Israel, said that Israel would accept the pledges on public health that had been made in the last decade and would be repeated at the Forum, and would be an active member of SEEHN. Its membership would facilitate a mutual exchange of experiences that Israel valued greatly. Over many years, there had already been numerous personal and professional contributions between the region and Israel’s health system. He thanked the ministers and SEEHN wholeheartedly.