53 European countries tackle killer diseases and public health: what the future holds for health, and how to beat diseases now

Baku, 9 September 2011

Public health is a matter of public concern. On every proposal before the WHO European Region’s governing body, meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan on 12–15 September 2011, WHO/Europe  has conducted wide consultation with technical experts, Member States, civil-society and partner organizations, and the online public.

Health ministers and other policy-makers, attending the sixty-first session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe as representatives of the Region’s 53 Member States, will be invited to endorse five innovative action plans on conditions contributing to the burden of disease in the Region, and to discuss a new European regional policy for improving health in all countries, Health 2020. This new policy emphasizes the right to health of all people in the Region, for which societies and governments have the ultimate responsibility.

“Health 2020 offers a new vision for health and well-being in the European Region: that all should be able to reach their full health potential,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Health is vital to the development of good and prosperous societies. Health 2020 will help meet this challenge, proposing new forms of governing and organizing for health, and reducing the barriers to good health. It will show Europe the way towards better and more equitable health and well-being.”

The five action plans address noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), alcohol, HIV/AIDS, drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) and antibiotic resistance. These account for most of the disease burden or are growing threats in the European Region.

“We are aware that, when it comes to the health of their populations, countries want the best but they also want value for money,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab. “We collect the evidence; we listen to what countries need, and we consult. The action plans under discussion give solutions that are evidence based and cost efficient, and form part of health systems’ renewed commitment to public health. They will be used to tackle the main killer diseases in our Region.”


NCDs – such as cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes – account for over 86% of deaths and 77% of the disease burden in the WHO European Region, and are responsible for many of the growing health inequalities that can be seen within and between countries. At the Regional Committee, countries will discuss signing up to a raft of highly affordable and cost-effective measures, which in some cases can benefit not only the public but also governments. The action plan for implementation of the European Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2012–2016 reveals in detail the determinants of NCDs, their impact on society and the priority interventions that can make a real difference, even in hard economic times. This European debate follows intensive discussions at The First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Noncommunicable Disease Control in Moscow, Russian Federation on 28–29 April 2011, and takes place on the eve of the high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on NCD prevention and control diseases, set for 19–20 September.


Drinking in the WHO European Region is the heaviest in the world, with a prevalence of heavy episodic drinking of over 20% in adults. While consumption varies greatly among countries, the average is 9.24 litres of pure alcohol per year. The European action plan to reduce the harmful use of alcohol 2012–2020 gives a comprehensive view of the problem and provides policy options proven to reduce alcohol-related harm, such as targeting drink–driving and regulating alcohol pricing, marketing and availability.


The European Action Plan on HIV/AIDS 2012–2015 is riding a rising tide of interest in and commitment to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. While the number of newly infected people is decreasing globally, in eastern Europe and central Asia the number of people living with HIV has more than tripled since 2000, constituting one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world. The priority must be to stop new infections and improve access to services for particularly vulnerable groups, whose human rights are seldom respected. New research this summer has indicated a breakthrough in “treatment as prevention”, which will help countries to reach the goal of cutting new infections by half by 2015.


WHO/Europe  developed the Consolidated Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Multidrug- and Extensively Drug-resistant Tuberculosis in the WHO European Region 2011–2015 to strengthen and intensify efforts to address the worrying level of drug-resistant TB in the Region. Although TB is an old disease, multidrug- and extensively drug-resistant TB (M/XDR-TB) is spreading at an alarming rate because of inadequate treatment and poor airborne infection control. XDR-TB is extremely difficult to treat, and the reported treatment failure rate in western European countries is high. In other countries in the Region, diagnostic and susceptibility-test services are extremely limited and so cannot reflect the whole picture; nevertheless, officially reported numbers of XDR-TB cases increased more than sixfold between 2008 and 2009. The Action Plan focuses on seven areas of intervention that, if put into practice across the Region, could save 120 000 lives and US$ 5 billion.

Antibiotic resistance

A growing phenomenon threatens the health of people in Europe: bacteria that cause common and life-threatening infections are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, the medicines used to treat them. This is due to the widespread use and misuse of antibiotics in both human beings and animals. Without new and effective antibiotics, but with increasing resistance, society could return to the conditions of a pre-antibiotic era, when a simple lung infection could kill a child, or when doctors could not fight meningitis. The European strategic action plan on antibiotic resistance aims to reduce mortality and morbidity from antibiotic resistance, and promote the prudent use of antibiotics. This urgent issue needs action now, before it is too late.

For further information, contact:

Viv Taylor Gee
Communications Adviser
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 31, + 45 22 72 36 91 (mobile)
E-mail: vge@euro.who.int

Faith Vorting
Communications Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 19
E-mail: fki@euro.who.int