European leaders set new roadmap to achieve 2030 Agenda and improve 900 million people’s health and well-being

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Press release

Copenhagen and Budapest, 7 September 2017

Health leaders gather at the annual meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe. In Budapest, Hungary on 11–14 September 2017 they will take decisions on health priorities that will have an impact on the health and well-being of about 900 million people in the WHO European Region, including in the European Union, central and eastern Europe, the Caucasus and central Asia.

Life expectancy has reached over 77 years on average across the Region and infant mortality is the lowest ever. However, gaps remain between countries. Life expectancy ranges from over 83 years to 71 years, and infant mortality from as low as 2 per 1000 children born alive to 22.

“As the health status of Europeans is steadily improving, we need to focus on achieving better, more equitable, sustainable health and well-being for each and every one at all ages. This is what we call universal health coverage and this is what will help us advance the Sustainable Development Agenda for health,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “From now on, governments will be able to use the new European roadmap to implement the 2030 Agenda, building on Health 2020, Europe’s policy framework: this gives us a common direction to better serve all our citizens’ health and well-being.”

Europe’s progress on Health 2020 promising towards achieving SDGs

In their second phase of Health 2020 implementation, countries of the Region are making progress in setting up national policies and plans that address its core values. This in turn will provide a stepping stone towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Region. By 2016:

  • 98% of the Region’s 53 countries reported having a policy or strategy to address the reduction of health inequities, an increase of 10% since 2010.
  • 93% of countries indicated that they had a national health policy aligned with Health 2020, 35% more than in 2010.
  • 86% of countries have implementation plans and 89% accountability mechanisms, both increasing since 2010 – by 40% and 44% respectively.

Wide-ranging agenda to cover major health challenges and opportunities

All the priorities of this year’s Regional Committee meeting have a bearing on achieving Health 2020 and the SDGs. Topics range from enhancing access to medicines to making the health workforce fit for purpose; from improving emergency preparedness and response to working together for health and reducing the death toll from polluted environments.

Leaving no one behind by expanding access to medicines

Medicines are the main contributor to out-of-pocket health payments in the Region. For the most vulnerable, life-saving drugs may be impossible to afford, especially long-term treatments for noncommunicable diseases. In several economies in transition, a 1-month hypertension course can cost up to a month’s wages, mostly paid out of pocket.

The latest data for the Region shows considerable variation in pharmaceutical spending between countries, ranging from less than 10% of total health care expenditure in northern Europe, to more than 30% in central Europe and central Asia. The Regional Committee will consider a document on improving affordable access to effective, high-quality and safe medicines, lower medicine prices and improved procurement processes.

Transforming Europe’s health workforce

The sustainable health workforce framework for action, expected to be adopted at the Regional Committee meeting, aims at enabling European countries to transform their workforce sustainably. One of the main challenges is making sure that the right people with the right skills are in the right place in the right numbers for an effective health system. With the new framework for action, countries are called to improve workforce planning and retention of health workers; high-income countries are discouraged from actively recruiting health workers from lower-income countries.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the International Health Regulations (IHR)

In the past 10 years, the world has faced a number of global health emergencies with repercussions for the Region: Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, poliovirus, yellow fever, Zika virus and others. The IHR have improved information flow from one country to another, enabled more timely interventions, improved international collaboration and reduced interference with travel and trade.

The Regional Committee will take stock of achievements to date and address remaining gaps. Recently, the WHO Emergency Programme has transformed the way the Organization and the world respond to health emergencies. The programme is fully functional; designed for speed, flexibility and impact on the health of affected people.

Other priorities

  • The Committee will call for the adoption of a resolution urging European countries to implement the Declaration of the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health they signed in June 2017. About 1.4 million people die every year from polluted environments and the resolution will bind countries to their commitment to reduce this toll.
  • A session on partnerships for health will propose the adoption of a resolution to regulate partnership with non-state actors. It takes into account the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the recently adopted WHO reform.
  • Participants will receive updates on progress made towards implementing previously adopted European action plans on reducing the harmful use of alcohol, along with action plans addressing food and nutrition and mental health.
  • A series of technical briefings will be organized for the delegates on immunization and migration, antimicrobial resistance and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, and early childhood development.

Guest speakers at the meeting will include Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Denmark; the new WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus;  the Prime-Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras, Deputy Prime Ministers of Malta and Turkey and other high-level guests. More than 15 ministers of health from countries of the Region are expected to attend the meeting.

More information on the Regional Committee session, including the provisional programme and drafts of the documents mentioned above, are available at the Regional Committee website. The session will be webcast live, and real-time coverage will be provided on Twitter using the hashtag #RC67.