Major health gains achieved through working together: 15 years of the South-eastern Europe Health Network and beyond

For more information, please contact the following representatives

Ms Rodica Munteanu
Communications Officer
WHO Country Office in the Republic of Moldova
Tel.: +373 79 465 959
Mobile: +373 79 465 959

Ms Liuba Negru
Communications Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 45 33 67 89
Mobile: +45 20 45 92 74

Ms Stela Cheptene
Serviciul Informare și Comunicare cu Mass-Media
Ministry of Health of the Republic of Moldova
Tel.: +373 22 268 873
Mobile: +373 22 268 873

Copenhagen and Chisinau, 3 April 2017

Nine south-eastern European countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Israel, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – are set to sign a new, far-reaching cooperation pledge to continue improving the health and well-being of their populations. The signing is expected at the end of the 4th South-eastern Europe Health Ministerial Forum, being held on 3–4 April 2017 in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova. Chisinau currently holds the rotating Presidency of the South-eastern Europe Health Network.

“The cooperation pledge of the nine south-eastern European countries builds on past achievements and aims to bring them forward,” stresses Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. Dr Jakab has made supporting the Network a priority in her work. “The South-eastern Europe Health Network has brought visible progress in the health status of its participating countries. Just to mention one, infant mortality – the main indicator of the health and well-being of a nation – has significantly decreased in all nine countries and halved in some. This proves that what we can achieve by working together is far greater than what can be done alone.”

Over 15 years of making progress together

The South-eastern Europe Health Network has shown the benefits of cross-country cooperation in public health by providing a platform to identify and address common challenges. Over the last 15 years, data from the nine south-eastern European countries indicate that:

  • infant mortality has decreased by more than half in some countries;
  • new cases of tuberculosis have halved – an outstanding achievement compared to other parts of the WHO European Region;
  • total health expenditure has tripled, while it has less than doubled in the Region as a whole;
  • patients’ direct out-of-pocket payments for health have dropped by 1%, while they have registered an average increase in other countries in the Region.

Health reforms in the Network’s countries show a decisive move towards universal health coverage and people-centred health systems. Progress continues in these areas as countries work together to:

  • tackle the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance through developing and implementing national plans;
  • develop policies allowing citizens to donate organs and blood voluntarily, including to cover blood shortages during emergencies;
  • provide mutual support in reducing the health consequences of smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity and alcohol consumption;
  • strengthen surveillance systems and health monitoring, particularly in relation to influenza viruses;
  • conduct joint work on mental health policy reform, training of health care workers and community engagement; and
  • address a number of public health areas such as health services legislation; cross-border public health; and health inequities, social inclusion and human rights.

Ms Ruxanda Glavan, Minister of Health of the Republic of Moldova and current President of the Network, says: “The ongoing partnership with the member states of the South-eastern European Health Network will greatly help us to achieve better health outcomes. Health 2020, the WHO European policy for health and well-being, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are instrumental to realizing common goals set in European documents related to observance of one’s right to health, improving the quality of primary health care and hospital care, and providing people with quality and affordable medicines.”

Persisting challenges require strengthened collaboration

Challenges remain, and boosted common efforts are needed to address them. These challenges include declining rates of measles and diphtheria vaccination; unequal health coverage; and additional pressure on health systems from refugee and migrant flows – particularly in front-line countries.

“There are no easy roads for the Network to achieve its goals and targets. It will require political will and fast action. It will also need new approaches and we know from experience that new approaches are difficult and take time,” says Dr Jakab. “But I believe that the Network is on the right track. WHO will continue to render the best possible support to its work.”

The pledge that the nine countries are expected to sign calls for:

  • increasing public financing for health, despite economic hardship;
  • coordinating efforts to improve people’s health through universal health coverage, whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches, and tackling health inequalities – all aiming to reach health-related goals and targets of the Agenda for Sustainable Development by 2030;
  • building a cross-border mechanism for coordinated health emergency response; and
  • establishing a subregional health workforce observatory to promote and monitor cross-border mobility of health care workers, harmonize their qualifications and prevent the emigration of young specialists to more affluent regions in order to address the challenge of an insufficient number of health workers in south-eastern Europe to cover the health needs of an ageing population.

Origins and future of the Network

The South-eastern Europe Health Network was set up in 2001, following the economic collapse and conflict that tore parts of south-eastern Europe apart in the 1990s. Over the years, the Network has helped to push public health higher up on political agendas.

“Last year we marked the Network’s 15th anniversary. The 4th Health Ministerial Forum will provide an opportunity to take stock of what we have achieved and how the countries have helped to shape the public health landscape in south-east Europe,” says Dr Mira Dasic, Head of the South-eastern Europe Health Network Secretariat.

The Forum is being organized jointly by the South-eastern Europe Health Network Presidency, Executive Committee and Secretariat, and in collaboration with the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The Government of the Republic of Moldova is hosting the event.

The Forum will be covered on social media. The Twitter hashtag will be #seeforum2017.