Health priorities for the European Region and COVID-19 in focus at WHO annual meeting

Copenhagen, 9 September 2020

On 14–15 September 2020, health ministers and high-level representatives of the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region, along with partner organizations and civil society, will meet virtually for the 70th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe (RC70), the Region’s annual decision-making meeting.

A new vision for health in Europe on the agenda
This year’s session is the first Regional Committee under Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, the new WHO Regional Director for Europe. Dr Kluge will put his vision for health across Europe – the new European Programme of Work (EPW), “United Action for Better Health in Europe” – to Member States for their approval.

The EPW sets down how WHO/Europe will help countries individually and collectively across the Region to meet citizens’ expectations for health. This work is built around 3 core regional priorities that together contribute to WHO’s global programme:

  • guaranteeing the right to universal access to quality care without fear of financial hardship;
  • protecting against health emergencies;
  • and building healthy communities, where public health actions and appropriate public policies secure a better life in an economy of well-being.

Underpinning these priorities is the principle of reducing health inequalities and leaving no one behind. This means investing in health and social care, working to reduce gender and social gaps in health outcomes within countries, paying attention to vulnerable people, and responding to migration-related challenges.

The EPW seeks to strengthen the leadership capabilities of health authorities, building their capacity to provide effective health leadership and to engage with other policy sectors.

Four flagship initiatives on cultural and behavioural insights, mental health, digital health, and immunization have been identified as accelerators of change to deliver the EPW. The flagships focus on critical issues that are high on Member States’ agendas and that offer opportunities for transformative change.

The result of a long consultative process with Member States, non-State actors and other international partners, the EPW also takes account of the seismic changes that have taken place globally and across the Region due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other highlights
Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark will address RC70 in her capacity as Patron of WHO/Europe. Since becoming Patron in 2005, Her Royal Highness has advocated for WHO’s work in a number of areas, most notably maternal, child and adolescent health, and health promotion and disease prevention through immunization and work to address antimicrobial resistance.

The Regional Director will also report on the state of health in the Region and review WHO/Europe’s activities to support Member States, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will address participants, providing a global perspective and additional reflections on lessons learned so far from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other key health issues on this year’s shortened agenda include the proposed budget for 2022–2023 and its regional implications, transformation in the Region, and accreditation of regional non-State actors.

A multilateral platform for collective commitments
The Regional Committee is not only a forum for policies and budgets, but also a vital platform for European Member States to come together, understand each other’s challenges, and find solutions to national, regional and global health threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In a global health crisis, the Region is only as strong as its weakest health system.

This year, multilateralism is in the spotlight as we mark the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. The virtual meeting of Member States at RC70 is an example of the importance of international cooperation and solidarity on human rights, peace and security, and development, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As 2020 has been designated International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, RC70 will also provide an opportunity to celebrate the collective efforts and invaluable work of nurses and midwives, now in even greater focus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to their professionalism and dedication, even when their own safety may be at stake, nurses and midwives are making universal health coverage a reality in the European Region and around the world.

From discussion to action
The decisions taken and policies adopted at the Regional Committee serve as collective commitments for countries to work together with coordinated approaches to the most pressing health issues facing Europe. They impact the health and well-being of the 900 million people who live in the European Region, including countries of the European Union, central and eastern Europe, the Caucasus and central Asia.

The Regional Committee also determines WHO/Europe’s workplan and priorities for the coming year as it strives for a healthier, safer and more prosperous Region – one that builds back better and more resilient.

The meeting will be webcast live in English and Russian, and proceedings will be covered on WHO/Europe’s social media channels. Engage in the discussions using #RC70Europe.

Source: WHO/Europe.