European countries adopt action plan for strengthening public health capacities

WHO/Martin Attard

Dr Hans Kluge presenting the European Action Plan for Strengthening Public Health Capacities and Services at RC 62, Malta

The WHO Regional Committee for Europe adopted the European Action Plan for Strengthening Public Health Capacities and Services at its 62nd session that concluded yesterday in Malta. Member States expressed their commitment to undertake further reviews of their public health services and integrate revised essential public health operations in their national strategies and systems.

Introducing the draft resolution on the European Action Plan, Dr Hans Kluge, Director of the Division of Health Systems and Public Health, remarked that this was a "great moment, as public health is being revived in the European Region". He explained that the Plan had been developed through an extensive consultative process to strengthen integrated service delivery in health protection, disease prevention and health promotion.

Given the challenges affecting societies in the 21st century - globalization, ageing populations, climate change - a renewed focus on public health is both timely and appropriate with a view to achieving the best health outcomes with limited resources.

The Plan has been put together in line with the new health policy framework, Health 2020, and built on a solid evidence base, including reviews of public health services in 41 of the 53 European Member States. At the heart of the Action Plan are ten revised essential public health operations (EPHOs):

  1. surveillance of population health and well-being;
  2. monitoring and response to health hazards and emergencies;
  3. health protection, including environmental, occupational and food safety, and others;
  4. health promotion, including action to address social determinants and health inequity;
  5. disease prevention, including early detection of illness;
  6. assuring governance for health and well-being;
  7. assuring a sufficient and competent public health workforce;
  8. assuring sustainable organizational structures and financing;
  9. advocacy, communication and social mobilization for health;
  10. advancing public health research to inform policy and practice.

Dr Kluge outlined the key elements of the resolution, which include taking forward the Action Plan as a pillar for implementation of Health 2020, acknowledging the revised EPHOs and the countries' need to assess their EPHOs, and collaborating on implementation under the leadership and with the support of WHO. A self-assessment tool for countries that was developed in conjunction with the Plan will be developed further and simplified.

During the extensive consultative process with Member States, the European Commission and nongovernmental organizations, adjustments were made to increase the focus on the social determinants of health, bring the time frame for implementation of the Action Plan in line with that of Health 2020, and develop a common glossary of terms.

Member States' discussion on the Action Plan

Cyprus, on behalf of countries of the European Union (EU), expressed its broad support of the Plan, with some minor changes to emphasize the importance of partnerships (with civil society, the private sector and the public through patient empowerment), primary health care, and the voluntary nature of the actions and measures.

Other countries reiterated their support, stating their commitment to undertake further reviews of their public health services and integrate the revised EPHOs in their national strategies and systems.