WHO European governing body set to adopt innovative public health plans and nominate regional head of agency

Copenhagen, 11 September 2014

On 15 September, the annual meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe opens, bringing together representatives of the 53 Member States in the WHO European Region to take stock of what has been achieved and to decide what should be done next. During the four-day meeting, about 350 participants will consider the progress made in implementing the WHO European policy framework, Health 2020, and nominate the WHO Regional Director for Europe for a five-year term of office. The Regional Committee is also expected to endorse innovative action plans, negotiated over the last year, on some of the key public health issues in the Region: vaccination, child and adolescent health, prevention of child maltreatment, and food and nutrition.

Health 2020: first progress report

In the first official progress report since Health 2020’s launch in 2012, WHO Regional Director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab will describe the many advances made throughout the Region in implementing the policy framework. Health 2020 was designed to make a real difference in the health and well-being of the people in the European Region, and countries have made great strides in the past two years towards accomplishing its core objective: to improve health for all by reducing health inequalities and improving leadership and participatory governance for health.

In addition, the Regional Director will provide insight into her vision for the future of Health 2020. The WHO Regional Office for Europe’s main goal is to continue to move health higher on the social and political agendas, thereby helping to increase equity in the Region.

Crucial turning point for vaccination

The WHO Regional Office for Europe is presenting the European Vaccine Action Plan to the Regional Committee for discussion and endorsement. This is a response to the hard blows that the Region’s success in immunization has sustained in the last five years. For example, the number of measles cases rose from 7100 in 2007 to almost 32 000 in 2013, and there were many outbreaks, particularly in high-income countries. The Region’s goal of eliminating measles and rubella by 2015, which was deemed achievable when set, is now gravely threatened.

Europe has pockets of unvaccinated people who are susceptible to disease because either vaccination programmes have not reached them or vaccination is refused. Equity in immunization is one of the main pillars of the European Vaccine Action Plan, and WHO appeals to Member States to tailor immunization services to ensure easy access for all, as well as to improve monitoring and surveillance, and to move towards registering vaccinations online in order to track population immunity and make evidence-based decisions.

Child and adolescent health

Although child and adolescent health shows continuous improvement, there are important causes for concern in both affluent and poor countries. The Region includes not only countries with the lowest infant and child mortality rates in the world but also those whose rates are 25 times higher. In addition, injuries, mental disorders, tobacco and alcohol use, obesity and malnutrition cause premature death or jeopardize young people’s future health.

The proposed strategy on child and adolescent health – Investing in children: the European child and adolescent health strategy 2015–2020 – builds on some fundamental principles to prevent much ill health and many deaths, including:

  • adopting an evidence-informed approach based on human rights and addressing the whole life-course; and
  • promoting strong partnerships and intersectoral cooperation.

In addition, the strategy draws attention to the adverse effects of electronic media, which children and adolescents increasingly use in many of their educational, social-networking and entertainment pursuits. While this presents new opportunities, it also raises challenges in relation to exposure to cyber-bullying, pornography and Internet addiction. The strategy calls on Member Sates to introduce more advanced policies in this area.

Preventing child maltreatment

Child maltreatment is common in the Region. It is estimated that, by the age of 18 years, 18 million children may have suffered sexual abuse and 44 million, physical abuse. Every year, over 850 children aged under 15 are victims of homicide. Such figures show only the tip of the iceberg, as data are scarce or unavailable.

The proposed action plan – Investing in children: the European child maltreatment prevention action plan 2015–2020 – calls for reductions of 20% in the prevalence of child maltreatment and child homicide by 2020.

Food and nutrition

The European Food and Nutrition Acton Plan 2015–2020 is intended to tackle one of the major risk factors responsible for the heavy and growing burden of noncommunicable diseases in the Region: unhealthy diets. In 46 of 53 countries in the Region, more than 50% of adults are overweight or obese, and the rates in several are close to 70% and rising. Overweight and obesity are estimated to cause the deaths of about 320 000 people in 20 western European countries every year. The situation in the eastern part of the Region is also worrying, as overweight and obesity rates in some eastern countries have more than tripled since 1980.

The Acton Plan emphasizes the need for governments to introduce a range of policies to promote healthy diets, which will help to reduce the excessive consumption of saturated fats and trans fats, salt and sugars, and to increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Priority policies include improved nutrition labelling, stronger controls on food marketing to children, expanded school food policies and a continued commitment to salt reduction through product reformulation. The Action Plan also addresses health services’ role in prevention, opportunities to promote healthy diets through food and agriculture policies and the continued importance of sophisticated surveillance systems to monitor and evaluate progress.

Other work for the Regional Committee

During a private session on Tuesday, 16 September, the Regional Committee will nominate the WHO Regional Director for Europe for the next five years, taking into consideration the assessment made by the regional evaluation group. Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab is the only candidate proposed for the job.

The Regional Committee will also address other important issues, such as:

  • the outcomes of conferences
  • partnerships for health in the WHO European Region
  • WHO reform and its implications for the WHO Regional Office for Europe
  • the future of the European environment and health process
  • progress reports on HIV/AIDS, antimicrobial resistance, reduction in the harmful use of alcohol and prevention of injuries.

A series of technical briefing is organized for representatives, addressing:

  • migration and health
  • nursing and midwifery
  • a country focus for the WHO Regional Office for Europe
  • health information
  • women’s health.

Lunches for ministers will be held on Monday and Tuesday, 15 and 16 September, during which they will discuss:

  • health on the post-2015 development agenda
  • early childhood development.

Further, Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Patron of the Regional Office, and WHO Director General Margaret Chan will address the Regional Committee on Monday, 15 September.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe’s website offers further information on:

  • the 2014 Regional Committee session ;
  • the process of nominating the Regional Director; and
  • related press materials.

The press is invited to attend press briefings at UN City (address: Marmorvej 51, 2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark). These include:

1.    on Tuesday, 16 September 2014:

  • 10:30–11:00: press briefing on the European health policy, Health 2020, the social determinants of health, and migration and health;

2.    on Wednesday, 17 September 2014:

  • 10:30–11:00: press briefing on vaccination;
  • 13:00–13:30: press briefing on child and adolescent health;
  • 13:45–14:15: press briefing on food and nutrition;
  • 14:30–15:00: press briefing on women’s health.

This programme is preliminary and times/events may change. Journalists are requested to register in advance to attend the press events. Registration closed on Wednesday, 10 September, at 12:00 CET.

For more information and accreditation, please contact:

Liuba Negru
Media Relations Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City
Marmorvej 51
DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø
Tel.: +45 45 33 67 89, +45 20 45 92 74 (mobile)
Email: lne@euro.who.int