53 Member States of the WHO European Region agree to safeguard the health and well-being of their populations, now and in the future
WHO / Uka Borregaard
Copenhagen, 15 September 2021
Agreements reached on pandemic preparedness, mental health, immunization and primary health care at the 71st session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe
Six hundred high-level delegates, including over 30 health ministers from the 53 countries in the WHO European Region, gathered virtually at the 71st session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, held on September 13 to 15.
Member States adopted a series of progressive agreements and resolutions to jointly respond to COVID-19, help protect their populations from future pandemics, build stronger and more resilient health systems by empowering their citizens, and allocate adequate resources to address health-care gaps.
Moving forward, together
“It is my dearest wish that the European Region can quickly and collectively regain control of the pandemic, and never lose it again. And that this crisis is the last one that takes us by surprise,” said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “For this to happen, first we need strong political leadership and coordination to finish off this crisis. Second, we need to strengthen primary and mental health care. And third, we need more inter-regional collaboration to make WHO stronger globally.”
“The death and suffering from the pandemic will be imprinted in our collective memory for a long time to come. But the pandemic has also enabled society to see the paramount importance of health and its interlinkages with other sectors, particularly with the economy and education,” added Dr Kluge.
“Whether solidarity will come from the heart or from the brain, it is an essential dimension of future societies. Leaving no country behind, leaving no individual behind, is not a slogan. It is our collective duty.”
Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development
“As this decade dawned, the world faced a monumental and unsolicited stress test: the COVID-19 pandemic. And as events have unfolded in the months since, we can be in no doubt that our political, economic and social systems have catastrophically failed to manage the defining crisis of our time,” said Professor Mario Monti, former Italian Prime Minister and Chair of the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development.
“There has been a tragic loss of life, and a disastrous impact on livelihoods. We cannot accept the consequences of our failings during this pandemic without trying to identify and tackle their causes. From this darkness, we must attempt to draw light,” Professor Monti continued.
“The world walked into the COVID-19 crisis lacking foresight, unwilling and unable to reach consensus on current pressing challenges. Countries were stuck looking on their doorsteps, seeking to solve transnational problems with outdated national solutions. For this reason, we suggest, among other things, improving global health governance through the creation of a Global Health and Finance Board under the G20, a Pandemic Treaty for joint decision-making, and a global pandemic vaccine policy,” he added.
Made up of 19 distinguished Commissioners, the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development has made a series of recommendations on how to prepare for future pandemics. Covering everything from planetary health and biodiversity to reforming health governance and financing as well as investing in innovation and public–private partnerships, the Commission has drawn the blueprint for WHO European Member States to build back better and stronger.
Member States agreed to set up new working groups tasked with taking the Commission’s recommendations back to their capitals to begin implementing them.
The European Region is facing a mental health crisis. Even before the pandemic, an estimated 150 million people in the Region suffered from a mental health condition, with only a small minority receiving any treatment. COVID-19 led to a catastrophic disruption of public mental health services. Closures, staff shortages and the diversion of funds meant that when people needed mental health support the most, these were simply not available to them.
Member States unanimously adopted the WHO European Framework for Action on Mental Health 2021–2025, which calls on countries to commit to placing mental health at the heart of efforts to achieve universal health coverage and reach the Sustainable Development Goals. The resolution also calls for, among other things, providing adequate funding for mental health services that are easily accessible to those who need them most.
A central pillar of the Framework for Action is engaging children and young adults at all levels of policy design and implementation so they can “win from within” – in other words, so they are equipped with the tools they need to help themselves and others cope with mental health issues.
Jack is a teenager from Ireland who uses dance to win from within. “I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism, so it was a struggle for me, before dancing,” he said. “In school I used to get picked on by kids, and I struggled a lot. I want to be a role model for the little child who has autism and who has been told that he can’t do anything, and I want to be the one to tell him that he can.”
Immunization Agenda 2030
The European Immunization Agenda 2030 (EIA2030) is one of the flagship initiatives of WHO/Europe. It envisions a world where everyone, everywhere, at every age, fully benefits from vaccines for good health and well-being.
EIA2030 aims to build back better after the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic by creating stronger and more resilient immunization systems and structures, based on lessons learned and the key pillars of immunization equity, life-course immunization, and tailored local solutions that address vaccination demand and acceptance in the population.
“COVID-19 has placed vaccines centre stage and impacted immunization programmes in multiple ways. We all know the power of vaccines – how they offer a safe and effective means to eliminate many diseases, thus preventing suffering that can permanently alter or take lives,” Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Patron of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, told Regional Committee delegates.
“You and your ministries have already done much to ensure that routine immunization continues across the European Region. It is a testament to your intense efforts to maintain or catch up on life-saving childhood vaccine programmes that routine coverage only fell by 1% between 2019 and 2020, despite COVID-19 restrictions. Yet large coverage variations between and within countries hidden by this small decrease remain a challenge, as do missed doses,” Her Royal Highness added.
“What an opportune moment to launch the European Immunization Agenda 2030, which seeks to build vaccine solidarity among nations and commitment among people. I look forward to playing my part in supporting this new agenda.”
Primary health care
Primary health care is the backbone of our health systems and the health-care entry point for the vast majority of people. Strong primary health-care systems at the heart of our communities are essential, not just to serve the health-care needs of these communities, but to ease pressures on other parts of the health system, including hospitals and services such as mental and social care.
The expansion of digital services has transformed primary health care forever. During the pandemic, countries in the European Region quickly adapted to online forms of health care and medical consultations. The pandemic has fast-tracked the digitalization of health care in many countries, but we must ensure the digital revolution does not leave some people behind.
As countries move into the next phase of the pandemic, with COVID-19 here to stay, stronger primary health care will be essential for more resilient health systems, for economic and social recovery and, ultimately, for the health and well-being of our people.
Having learned lessons from COVID-19, Member States unanimously adopted a resolution committing them to provide essential and comprehensive primary health-care services free of charge, accelerate the uptake of digital solutions, and respond to the unique health-care needs of local and regional communities.