WHO European governing body to convene in Vilnius

For further information, contact:

Ina Parvanova
Regional Adviser, Communications
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City, Marmorvej 51
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Tel.: + 45 45 33 68 05
Mobile: + 45 21 19 43 74
Email: tpr@euro.who.int

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

Engaging all sectors in tackling public health challenges high on the agenda

Copenhagen and Vilnius, 10 September 2015

The 65th annual session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, the WHO European Region's governing body, will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 14–17 September 2015. Over 260 delegates, including ministers of health and other policy-makers, will attend the meeting as representatives of the 53 Member States of the Region. The Regional Committee is expected to endorse a new strategy on physical activity, a roadmap on tobacco control and an action plan for tuberculosis. The delegates will set priorities for health systems strengthening and devote 1 day to considering how to reach out to and work with other sectors to reduce the numbers of deaths and cases of disease in their countries. Confirmed speakers include Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Denmark, the WHO Director-General, the President of the Republic of Lithuania and the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. Fifteen ministers of health from European countries will attend the meeting.

Intersectoral collaboration takes centre stage

The Regional Committee will discuss engagement and collaboration with stakeholders from a diverse group of sectors, including agriculture, education, transport and the environment, on Tuesday, 15 September 2015, in a series of ministerial panels. "Collaboration with other sectors is set to take centre stage at the meeting in Vilnius," says WHO Regional Director Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab. She said, "In the past, we lacked sufficient evidence to engage other sectors on what they could do for health and what health could do for them. But this is no longer the case. The WHO European Region's health policy framework, Health 2020, provides both the political and the scientific legitimacy for putting health higher on the agenda of governments at all levels. None of the health challenges of our time, such as inequities, chronic diseases, public health emergencies and health illiteracy, can be dealt with effectively without the involvement of a host of sectors and partners. Development in all its forms – social, economic, environmental, etc. – is integrally linked with health and calls for whole-of-government and whole-of-society action. Ultimately, we are judged not by what we say but by what we do for the health and well-being of our people."

Innovative strategy on physical activity

Insufficient physical activity contributes to the rapidly increasing burden of noncommunicable diseases in the European Region, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, breast and colon cancer. It is also driving the obesity epidemic. According to WHO estimates, in 46 countries of the Region, more than 50% of adults are overweight or obese; in some countries, the rate is close to 70%.

At the Regional Committee session, countries will discuss endorsing an ambitious 10-year strategy consisting of highly affordable, cost-effective measures for promoting physical activity in all countries of the European Region. The strategy is based on a multisectoral approach that goes beyond the health sector and builds on the global targets set out in the Organization's Global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases 2013–2020, including:

  • a 10% relative reduction in the prevalence of insufficient physical activity by 2025;
  • a 25% relative reduction in the risk for premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases;
  • a 25% relative reduction in the prevalence of raised blood pressure or containment of the prevalence of raised blood pressure; and
  • a halt to the rise in diabetes and obesity.

Making tobacco a thing of the past

The Regional Committee will also discuss a new Roadmap of actions to strengthen implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in the European Region 2015–2025. According to WHO estimates, more than 1.6 million people in the European Region die of tobacco-related diseases every year. Globally, the Region has the highest proportion of deaths (16%) attributable to tobacco use and the highest prevalence of tobacco smoking among adults (28%). The roadmap views the problem comprehensively and provides policy options for ministries of health to involve others sectors in effective tobacco control. The target of the roadmap is a relative reduction in the prevalence of current tobacco use of at least 30% in people aged 15 years or older by 2025. The long-term vision is for a Region free of tobacco-related morbidity, mortality and addiction.

Priorities for health systems strengthening

Inspired by the European Region's policy framework, Health 2020, the Regional Committee is set to adopt strategic priorities in the area of health systems strengthening for 2015–2020. The document, which is expected to be endorsed in Vilnius, calls for health systems to become more people-centred "in order to accelerate health gains, reduce health inequalities, guarantee financial protection and ensure efficient use of societal resources". If adopted, it will promote action in two priority areas relevant to the post-2015 development agenda:

  • transforming health services to meet the health challenges of the 21st century; and
  • moving towards universal health coverage for a Europe free of impoverishing out-of-pocket payments.

New tuberculosis action plan

The Regional Office has developed a new tuberculosis (TB) action plan for the European Region, which sets a regional goal and targets for the care and control of TB and drug-resistant TB for 2016–2020. Much progress has been made in the fight against TB over the past 5 years in the WHO European Region. Over 1 million TB patients were cured; about 200 000 multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) cases were averted; and more than 2.6 million lives were saved. On average, the number of TB cases dropped by about 6% every year. Yet, this is not enough to achieve TB elimination by 2050. Presently, about 1000 people fall sick with TB each day; fewer than 50% of MDR-TB cases are treated successfully; and over one quarter of the global burden of TB affects European countries, predominantly in the eastern part of the Region.

The aim of the action plan is to bring "an end to the TB epidemic, with zero affected families facing catastrophic costs due to the disease". The targets to be achieved by 2020 are:

  • a 35% reduction in TB death;
  • a 25% reduction in the TB incidence rate; and
  • a 75% treatment success rate among drug-resistant TB patients.

In this way, about 1.4 million TB patients in Europe can be cured, including 130 000 patients with MDR-TB and extensively drug-resistant (XDR-) TB; 1.7 million new cases can be prevented; and over 3 million lives and US$ 48 billion can be saved.

Migration and health

During a special briefing session, the Regional Committee will focus on health issues relating to the large influx of refugees and migrants to countries of the WHO European Region. The delegates will discuss, inter alia, the measures required for strengthening health systems capacity to help people on the move. To date in 2015, about 350 000 refugees and migrants have reached European countries, adding to the almost 2 million who have taken shelter in Turkey.

Other agenda topics

The Regional Committee will discuss a number of other issues, including:

  • partnerships for health in the European Region;
  • WHO reform: progress and implications for the Region;
  • presentation of the European health report 2015;
  • progress in the Region on implementing the International Health Regulations (2005); on achieving the Millennium Development Goals; on MDR- and XDR-TB; on behaviour change strategies and health; on stewardship and governance of health systems; and on the future of the European environment and health process.

A series of technical briefings will be organized for delegates to consider on:

  • women's health;
  • the health workforce; and
  • evidence-informed policy-making.

During the ministerial lunches, held on Monday and Tuesday, ministers will discuss:

  • migration and health; and
  • the Lithuanian experience in implementing the Health 2020 policy framework.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe's website (http://www.euro.who.int/en/rc65) offers detailed information on the 65th session of the Regional Committee, including the provisional programme and the documents mentioned above.