Day 1 highlights: RC65 opens with emphasis on intersectoral action

Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Denmark and the WHO Regional Director for Europe opened the 65th session of the Regional Committee (RC65), recognizing intersectoral action as its overarching theme. The President of the Republic of Lithuania welcomed over 300 delegates from European Member States to Vilnius.

Election of officers

  • Mrs Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė, Minister of Health of Lithuania, was elected President of RC65.
  • Ms Taru Koivisto, of Finland, was elected Executive President.
  • Dr Benoît Valet, of France, was elected Deputy Executive President.
  • Dr Mario Miklosi, of Slovakia, was elected Rapporteur. 

Opening comments by Mrs Dalia Grybauskaitė, President of the Republic of Lithuania

Welcoming representatives to Lithuania, President Grybauskaitė underlined that RC65's decisions focused on the priceless goal of healthy human beings. She noted that current challenges to health, such as the increases in migration, are not easy to tackle, but can be overcome through joint action. President Grybauskaitė wished RC65 success in achieving strategic results that will provide the basis for public health policies in the WHO European Region.

Address by Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Denmark

Her Royal Highness addressed RC65 as Patron of WHO/Europe. Referring to the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, The Crown Princess underlined the essential role of health in reducing poverty and serving as a benchmark for sustainable development. Her Royal Highness also spoke of health issues of special interest to her, describing her visit to Tajikistan with the WHO Regional Director for Europe in October 2014, to advocate mother and child health and immunization. 

"It was heart breaking to see the devastating effects of a disease that can be prevented. Polio can be and, we all hope, soon will be a thing of the past," she said. 

The Crown Princess also reiterated her commitment to working with WHO to improve the health of women and girls, and to ensure that they remain at the centre of development efforts. 

Address by Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, on the work of WHO/Europe

Dr Jakab began her review of improvements, developments and challenges in health over the past year by emphasizing the WHO European Region's goal of securing more equitable and sustainable health for Europe, supported by the Health 2020 policy framework. Many countries are using the framework to develop broader, coherent, interconnected policies. The Regional Director explained that intersectoral action is RC65's overarching theme, because work across government is essential to achieving improvements in health.
"In essence, Health 2020 supports making the right political choices for health. Our key role is to protect health as a universal value and to promote it as a social and political goal for governments and societies as a whole," said Dr Jakab.

Dr Jakab identified positive developments in public health, including: the establishment of intersectoral government committees to promote health, a 6 % annual fall in tuberculosis incidence over the past 5 years, the probable elimination of malaria from the Region by the end of 2015, an annual 2% reduction in alcohol consumption and the positioning of health at the heart of the sustainable development. She also drew attention to challenges of particular concern, such as 136 000 new infections from HIV across the Region in 2014, confirmed cases of poliomyelitis circulating in the Region due to low immunization coverage, and the health needs of the large numbers of refugees and migrants in the Region. 

Dr Jakab called on representatives to "make sure that we are ready, and we leave no one behind" in pursuing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Plenary discussion 

Representatives welcomed the Regional Director's report, expressing their appreciation of the progress on key health issues and the coherence in health policy achieved by implementing Health 2020. The representative of Cyprus summarized: "Keep up the good work, Dr Jakab."

The need for all stakeholders – countries and organizations – to work together to address the humanitarian crisis and health issues arising from the mass influx of refugees and migrants to the WHO European Region was a recurring theme in the comments of representatives of Member States and international organizations. 

Speakers from several countries recognized that the Ebola emergency in West Africa underlines the need for WHO to reform its emergency-response structure. Other issues raised included the needs for: 

  • stronger commitment to implementing WHO's global action plan on antimicrobial resistance and the European Vaccine Action Plan;
  • understanding of how the private sector can contribute to health-sector development; 
  • the European Region's leading role in evaluating the International Health Regulations; and 
  • clarification in nominating experts for global intergovernmental processes. 

A speaker from Hungary announced his Government's offer to host the 2017 RC session in Budapest. 

Partnerships for health 

Opening statements set the stage for a panel discussion on partnerships' contribution to improved health in the WHO European Region. Dr Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Mrs Anuradha Gupta, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the GAVI Alliance; and the WHO Regional Director for Europe described their priorities and vision for a stronger European Region, with increased partner support. 

"Partnerships are crucial for our work," said Dr Jakab, highlighting WHO's excellent collaboration with both the Global Fund and GAVI Alliance. 

Professor Martin McKee, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, led the discussion among panellists including the Minister of Health of the Republic of Moldova (Ms Ruxanda Glavan), representatives of Georgia and the National Board of Health and Welfare of Sweden, and the opening speakers. Every panellist called for more action to further propel intersectoral collaboration for change.

A representative of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA) asked the panellists how the Region can empower people to be at the centre of their health care. Mrs Gupta said that the starting point is dismantling silos within health and beginning to invest in people.

WHO reform: progress and implications for WHO/Europe

WHO reform has recurred on the RC agenda since 2011. Discussions in plenary focused on how the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has underlined the need to accelerate reform of the roles of WHO's three levels during emergencies, to mobilize human resources rapidly, to build partnerships with other responders, to access adequate financing quickly and to accelerate research and development in epidemics or health emergencies. As to enhanced accountability and compliance across WHO, WHO/Europe already has a robust internal control framework, but more could be done, including linking compliance with audit recommendations to individuals' performance assessments, and strengthening administrative capacity in country offices. WHO/Europe has introduced several recent initiatives for governance reform, including improvements in procedures for nominating the Regional Director, oversight by Member States, management of governing-body agendas and resolutions, and transparency in electing members of the Standing Committee of the Regional Committee and the WHO Executive Board. 

Representatives of several Member States emphasized that financial compliance creates trust that the resources provided are used for the purpose intended. Speakers also raised the need to ensure that the forthcoming staff-mobility scheme is fair to staff and maintains essential staff capacity. 

Migration and health 

A Region-wide, comprehensive and systematic approach is needed to tackle the public health challenges posed by migration to European countries, emphasized ministers and heads of delegation during an informal lunchtime meeting. Many countries took part in the discussions, acknowledging WHO's role as the United Nations agency responsible for public health, and calling for its continuous support in dealing with the issue. 

Heads of delegations highlighted key areas where policy advice and technical assistance is primarily needed, including: contingency planning, disease surveillance, medical assessment procedures and immunization. The Regional Director said that intercountry and interregional coordination must be strengthened to protect and improve the health of both refugees and migrants, and the populations of receiving countries. 

RC65 decided that WHO would organize a conference as soon as possible, to agree on a common public-health approach to large-scale migration in the Region. 

Technical briefing: women's health 

The briefing shared some of the preliminary findings of a detailed investigation into women's health during four age stages – girl children, adolescents, adult women and older women – that are included in a new report, "Beyond the mortality advantage: investigating women's health in Europe". 

Events before the start of RC65

Biennial collaborative agreement (BCA) between Uzbekistan and WHO/Europe

In a bilateral meeting on 13 September 2015, the Ministry of Health of Uzbekistan and WHO/Europe signed a BCA setting priorities for their joint work in 2016–2017.

Press conference at the Ministry of Health of Lithuania

On 10 September 2015, the WHO Regional Director for Europe and the Minister of Health of Lithuania briefed national and international media representatives on issues to be discussed during RC65. They answered questions about health-sector reform, Lithuania's progress in various health areas and migration.

Briefing for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) 

On 13 September, 24 representatives of 16 NGOs attended a briefing session to acquaint themselves with key issues on the RC65 agenda, side events during the RC and procedures for their participation.

Highlights of day 2

  • Address by Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General
  • Introduction to the European health report 2015
  • Panel discussions on promoting intersectoral and interagency action for health and well-being, focusing on:
    • progress on environment and health 
    • the social determinants and health, and health literacy 
    • sustainable development and foreign policy
  • A technical briefing on progress towards a sustainable health workforce.