Expert meeting lays foundation for scaled-up action on strengthening public health services in Europe


Countries across the WHO European Region need strong, comprehensive public health services. This was recognized in 2016 by World Health Assembly resolution WHA69.1 as a means of supporting the achievement of universal health coverage in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, a recent review of the implementation of the European Action Plan for Strengthening Public Health Capacities and Services showed that, despite robust action in Member States, its potential has remained largely unrealized. This review highlighted that in order to accelerate strengthening public health services, the focus should be placed on the so-called enablers of these services, namely:

  • human resources for public health,
  • financing of public health services,
  • organization of public health services, and
  • public health legislation.

In this context, WHO/Europe joined forces with champion countries and organizations from the international public health community to take the first step in forming a Coalition of Partners (CoP) to strengthen public health capacities and services in the European Region, and to develop and implement a joint Agenda for Action. These partners have an essential role to play in developing the agenda and implementing its actions.

As secretariat to the initiative, WHO/Europe convened a 2-day meeting to start the process of co-creating the Agenda for Action that the CoP will take forward. The meeting took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 30–31 January 2017. It was designed as an interactive workshop that focused on reaching the meeting’s key aims through a variety of exercises, small-group work and open dialogue among participants.

Meeting objectives and outcomes

The main objectives of the meeting were to:

  • establish the Coalition of Partners;
  • agree on the principles for collaboration within the CoP;
  • achieve consensus on objectives and the actions required to achieve them;
  • give CoP partners the opportunity to express their interest in leading on or contributing to actions;
  • agree on short-term deliverables that can be produced within the first 100 days and with the current resources of the CoP; and
  • agree on concrete next steps.

“By bringing together the ‘supply’ of expertise on public health capacities and services and the ‘demand’ from the country level, we were able to curate a fruitful dialogue that laid a strong foundation for further development of the CoP and refinement of the agenda for action,” said Dr Anna Cichowska, Programme Manager of Public Health Services at WHO/Europe.

During the meeting, participants reached consensus on the Agenda for Action’s key objectives and the activities required to achieve them. They also decided on practical actions and concrete next steps. The agenda for action is demand-driven, shaped by Member States' needs and experiences, and co-owned by WHO/Europe and CoP partners. Furthermore, collaboration between members of the Coalition will enable the pooling of expertise and resources needed to take forward the agreed actions.

The expert meeting marks the start of a long-term initiative. In the days and weeks to come, the “task and finish” groups that were formed during the event will further develop their proposals for action, and begin work on these tools to strengthen public health and activities to build capacities. The next milestone will be the Coalition’s next meeting, to be hosted by Finland and tentatively scheduled for June 2017. This meeting will further formalize the CoP as a network of those committed to strengthening public health services. It will provide an opportunity to present project advancements since the first meeting, and give the Coalition the opportunity to work together to make further progress on joint actions.