WHO/Europe brings lessons from Ebola preparedness and good practices to international health security discourse

From left, Dr Päivi Sillanaukee, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Finland; Dr Hans Kluge, WHO/Europe; and Ms Outi Kuivasniemi, Deputy Director for International Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Finland; in Cape Town, South Africa, 13 July 2015.

On 13 July 2015, WHO convened a high-level conference in Cape Town, South Africa called "Building Health Security Beyond Ebola". It involved 200 experts from governments, development agencies, civil society and international organizations. The purpose of the meeting was to collaborate on ways to make countries and communities stronger by accelerating the development of health systems and capacities identified by the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) to prevent, detect and respond to a public health emergency of international concern.

European approach to health security: Health 2020 and IHR

One focus within the conference was gaining the experiential learning and recommendations from the WHO European Region in a health systems capacity. Dr Hans Kluge, Director, Health Systems and Public Health at WHO/Europe, delivered a presentation explaining the European approach to public health threats and public health emergencies.

Referencing Health 2020, the policy framework supporting whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches, Dr Kluge explained that the best way to prevent an Ebola outbreak in Europe and future health threats was to strengthen people-centred health systems and empower communities.

Explicit linkages between IHR core capacity and health systems, particularly in surveillance and information, laboratory services, health workforce and health service delivery, are at the centre of strengthening health security.

"Community mobilization and engagement is a core element of both health systems improvement and local active and passive disease surveillance efforts and, therefore, needs to be approached in an integrated way. The heart of any effort to strengthen health systems and security must be national planning and engagement," said Dr Kluge.

Need to strengthen capacities and systems

He went on to state that global Ebola preparedness activities have shown that many countries and regions lack:

  • sufficiently functional core capacities to detect and respond to serious public health events; and
  • adequately resilient health systems that can sustain emergency responses and continue the provision of routine services.

The European Region's Member States in attendance at the conference supported the role of WHO and each regional office to build health security through bolstered health systems and reviving public health capacities. The outcome of their interaction on the topic resulted in them devising various points of consensus for current and future efforts to implement IHR.

About the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA)

GHSA is a partnership of about 50 countries, major international organizations and other partners to accelerate country capacity building for IHR. The current Chair, Dr Päivi Sillanaukee, Permanent Secretary of the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, stressed the importance of building health security as an integral part of the health system and as a cross-sectoral effort.

"Combining country commitment with a transparent overview of health security gaps through an external country assessment and systematic capacity building with partners makes the GHSA approach an effective process. WHO has an important role as a coordinator matching country plans with the support from regional and international partners," Dr Sillanaukee said.