Who is steering Europe towards better health?

WHO calls on health ministries to do more to strengthen their governance role

Copenhagen, Rome 3 April 2008

Over 150 leading health experts from the 53 Member States in the WHO European Region are meeting in Rome, Italy, to discuss the governance of health systems and greater coordination on policies affecting health.

At the meeting, which is hosted by the Ministry of Health of Italy, country representatives and other experts are discussing how health ministries must act as stewards, taking the lead in developing health policies that favour effective, affordable, high-quality personal and population services, as well as in setting priorities across the whole government spectrum to promote health goals. The focus is on good governance, which includes transparency, accountability and working in partnership with health insurers, patient and consumer organizations, trade unions, employer organizations and others.

“We hope that the outcome of the meeting in Rome will go some way towards extending the influence of ministries of health, ensuring the availability of the necessary resources for personal and non-personal services to all, and putting health on the agenda of other sectors,” says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe, organizer of the meeting.

The health ministry’s role is, first, to ensure that effective and high-quality personal health care services are provided to all, and that the human and financial resources to do this are properly managed. In addition, many people benefit from the provision of population health services, often called public health services (such as inspections, educational campaigns, etc.), which prevent the occurrence of disease.

Many different factors – economic, agricultural, food-safety, social and educational, environmental, trade, energy, transport, taxation, etc. – affect health. “A vital part of a ministry of health’s work is to measure the impact of all factors that influence health, and search for the best combination in terms of allocation of resources. As some of these factors are beyond health care, the level of cooperation between different parts of government and at the international level must improve,” says Dr Nata Menabde, Deputy Regional Director at the WHO Regional Office for Europe. “Let me give you a couple of examples of national and international policies across Europe that have been established by other sectors, yet affect health. Owing to different pricing and taxation policies, the price of cigarettes in central and western Europe ranges from Euro 0.67 to Euro 8.08. Within the European Union, a scheme to support the provision of milk in schools gives the highest subsidy to full-fat milk, rather than lower-fat milk, despite dietary guidelines. Indeed, the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy traditionally does not subsidize the production of fruit and vegetables while it subsidizes the production of cereals, beef, olive oil, milk, wine and sugar, and even tobacco.”

Governments are under increasing pressure, being held accountable to their citizens for improving health systems’ performance by making sure they are fair, effective and responsive to the rising needs and expectations of populations. Informed decisions are expected on what actions benefit health most.

WHO European Ministerial Conference on Health Systems

The meeting in Rome is the final preparatory meeting for Member States before the WHO European Ministerial Conference on Health Systems: “Health Systems, Health and Wealth”, to be held in Tallinn, Estonia on 25–27 June 2008. The Conference will explore how health systems influence health, social well-being and wealth through their impact on areas such as employment and the economy.

The Conference will bring together health ministers from the 53 Member States in the European Region. Over 500 participants are expected to attend the two-and-a-half-day event. To encourage intersectoral cooperation, high-level delegations are invited, as well as health-system partners, experts, observers and representatives of international and civil-society organizations and the mass media. Particular emphasis will be placed on engaging finance ministries through the health ministries.

The Conference is part of the Regional Office’s continuing commitment to supporting Member States in strengthening their health systems, and is being organized in response to resolution EUR/RC55/R8, adopted by the WHO Regional Committee for Europe at its fifty-fifth session in 2005.

For more information, contact:

Technical information:

Ms Faith Kilford
Conference Communications Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 19; mobile: +45 30 51 87 94
E-mail: FKI@euro.who.int

Press information:

Ms Liuba Negru
Press and Media Relations Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: +45 39 17 13 44. Fax: +45 39 17 18 80
E-mail: LNE@euro.who.int