Regions for Health Network Steering Group plans next steps

The first face-to-face meeting of the Regions for Health Network (RHN) Steering Group took place on 18–19 April 2016 in Venice, Italy. Steering Group members discussed the steps taken since RHN was revitalized in 2012, and identified crucial milestones for the current biennium 2016–2017.

The Steering Group members are Flanders (Belgium), the Autonomous Province of Trento (Italy), Murska Sobota (Slovenia), Skåne (Sweden), Wales (United Kingdom) and the WHO Secretariat. Representatives from Kaunas (Lithuania), host of the 23rd RHN Annual Meeting in September 2016, and from Ostfold (Norway) also took part in the meeting.

RHN and the 2030 Agenda

Agreeing on complete alignment among all members and generating new ideas for future steps were the two main core aims of the meeting. Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was one of the key topics discussed, as they represent the new focus of the United Nations. They include 17 goals and 169 targets, which are all crucial to achieve in order to fight health inequalities while pursuing better health for all.

"Health benefits depend on achievements, and achieving the health goal will contribute to meeting the other goals," stated Bettina Menne, Programme Manager, Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Green Health Services at the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health in Bonn, Germany, joining the meeting via Skype. She presented examples of how intersectoral action should become a cornerstone for RHN activities under the umbrella of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and as a follow-up to the principles of Health 2020.

All participants have been encouraged to suggest how they think the SDGs could be incorporated into RHN's work.

RHN and Healthy Cities Network: a new partnership 

All RHN members agreed that development is needed to reduce inequalities. In this sense, intersectoral cooperation, involving all stakeholders is necessary: to go further, we need trasversal actions. To this aim, one of the most important initiatives for RHN is future collaboration with other networks, inside and outside of WHO. Particularly, members discussed how to establish a fruitful partnership with the Healthy Cities Network. The meeting was also attended by phone by Monika Kosinska, the new lead on governance for the network. Possible ideas in order to grant coherent action across the two WHO networks were shared and proposed.

RHN and the environment

Marco Martuzzi, Programme Manager, Environment and Health Intelligence and Forecasting at the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, participated in the meeting. The WHO European Office for Investment for Health and Development in Venice, Italy, which coordinates RHN, and the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, were recently placed under the same division. This represents a great opportunity for RHN. Environment and health are two sides of the same coin, not just in terms of emergencies, but because environment is a fundamental determinant of health.

Collaboration with local universities

"Think globally, act locally" is of course a strength of RHN. The first action for implementing the SDGs is working for healthy settings at the subnational level. Just like environmental issues, health is first and foremost a matter of local contexts. In this sense, RHN members, disseminating their key studies, could set an example for other regions.

This is the reason why RHN strongly encourages collaboration with universities. During the meeting, participants discussed which way forward could be the most constructive in this sense. Building bridges between academic institutions will be a pillar for the next few years for RHN. Moreover, to implement the principle of health for all, medical students should be educated on inequality-related topics.

Ostfold region (Norway), which is currently working on a collaboration with a local university, plays a fundamental role in this initiative.

Upcoming RHN events 

Finally, members presented the upcoming RHN events: 

  • a study visit to Wales (United Kingdom) in June 2016
  • a summer school organized by Murska Sobota (Slovenia) in July 2016
  • the next RHN Annual Meeting, hosted by Kaunas region (Lithuania) on 22–23 September 2016.