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29 September 2021

In our role status as accredited non-state-actor, EFA participated in the 71st meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe between 13th-17th September with a delegation composed of (Isabel Proaño, Panagiotis Chaslaridis and Gergely Meszaros from Pulmonary Hypertension Association Europe).

EFA’s role at WHO Europe

Not only EFA’s non-state-actor status was renewed, but we also submitted written and oral statements on key topics from the agenda. EFA participated in 5 joint statements referenced below and submitted a joint statement with the European Respiratory Society on behalf of the European Lung Health Group calling for more attention to lung health, and respiratory disease, in Europe.

Strong keynote addresses from WHO

The Regional Commitee kicked-off with speeches from the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and the WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri Kluge.

Dr Ghebreyesus praised the benefits of vaccination in the global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. He warned against complacency and called all countries to unite in solidarity to tackle vaccine inequalities. He stressed that a lesson learnt from this crisis is the importance of primary healthcare settings as the foundation for health security and Universal Health Coverage.

Dr Ghebreyesus identified four critical areas of action in health in the near future:

  1. Better global governance, based on new mechanisms and on high-level political engagement
  2. More and better financing for national and global preparedness and response
  3. The development of better systems and tools across the One Health spectrum, such as the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence
  4. A strengthened and sustainably financed WHO to operate at the centre of the global health architecture

In his address, WHO Regional-Director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge reminded that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be the compass to achieve better health in Europe, and recalled  the European Programme of Work (EPW) and its 4 flagship initiatives on mental health, immunisation, behavioural insights, and empowerment through digital health.

According to Dr Kluge, primary care should be affordable and closely linked to healthy lifestyles and the fight against noncommunicable diseases (NCD). Established in December 2020, the WHO NCD Advisory Council on Innovation will plan several initiatives in this area.

Dr Kluge also stressed the need for urgent action on environment and climate change and referred to the launch of the updated WHO Air Quality Guidelines later in September.

Dr Kluge wrapped up stating that WHO as an organisation needs to look at its own institutional fitness, through more regionalism, more political participation by Member States, and more flexible financing.

How to get ready for the next pandemic? Lessons learnt from COVID-19

In a later session during the first day, WHO presented an overview of the lessons learnt from the pandemic and how they can contribute to improving emergency preparedness and response to address future public health crises. These lessons include:

  • Health emergencies impact the whole of society, therefore investments in preparedness and improving essential public health functions and primary services should be prioritised
  • Prioritise known capacity gaps, by tapping the full potential of collaborations
  • Leverage health information for immediate and robust action through better sourcing, governance, access and protection of health and health-related data
  • Integrate emergency public health services and universal health coverage. Countries with Universal Health Coverage based on strong public health and primary health care services were more ready to deliver a response to the pandemic
  • Invest in healthcare infrastructure and workforce, through increased training for and material support to front line health workers

Together with other non-state actors, EFA joined two statements on this topic, initiated by:

  1. EuroHealthNet, along with the European Public Health Association (EUPHA), stressing the health inequalities during the COVID-19 crisis and calling for more resilient health systems that eliminate inequalities and provide better access to universal quality health services, a strengthened primary care, and improved digital literacy. You can access it here.
  2. The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), along with the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME). In this statement we acknowledge the vital role of healthcare professionals on the front line of the crisis and express our full support on the need for more funding in public health and towards a safer workplace environment for healthcare workers. You can access it here.

The WHO Regional Committee for Europe also adopted a new strategy for health and sustainable development, and realistic set or priorities and approach to strengthen healthcare systems for the future, as we analyse in this article.

One of the flagships of the Europe’s Programme of Work 2020-2025 also saw the light, as the Regional Committee adopted the European Immunization Agenda 2030 that we analyse in this article.

Finally, Member States from the European region discussed in depth and extensively the role of primary healthcare as the first contact people has with healthcare systems and made strong pledges on how to strengthen and improve them. EFA co-signed a joint statement led by the European Forum for Primary Care that called for more resourced, equipped and accessible primary healthcare settings that liaise with the communities where they operate.