The 71st Session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe took place from 13 September to 15 September 2021. Health ministers and high-level representatives of the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region as well as partner organizations and civil society met virtually to discuss current health issues and set the direction for future activities.
As a recognised non-state actor, EuroHealthNet submitted multiple statements to the WHO Regional Committee meeting.
The statements made were:
Provisional Agenda item 4 “Report of the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development: presentation of recommendations and conclusions”
Dear Honourable Regional Director and delegates of Euro Region Member States
EuroHealthNet, the European Partnership of national institutes of public health and regional health authorities, welcomes the work of the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development.
In the light of the recovery from the pandemic, it is indeed time to rethink policy priorities. We want to highlight four of the commission’s messages, and how we think they should be taken forward.
Firstly, The commission stresses the importance of the concept of “One Health” and positions it as central at all governance levels, both globally and in the European Region. We welcome this reference to sustainability, however, we are concerned that that the “One Health” concept does not go far enough in addressing the joint challenges of health, equity, and environment. We need additional and urgent multidisciplinary action, for example, on sustainable food systems for healthy diets, a public transport system for active travel and clean air, and a general greening of the health care sector. We need to mitigate the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, which is a threat to human and planetary health.
Secondly, the Commission is very clear on the need to take action to close inequality gaps. We wholeheartedly welcome this. We have found that those who are less well-off, suffer not only most from the negative impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, but often benefit the least from the innovation and measures taken to address them. The green transition must be a fair transition. This will mean reforming systems, including health systems, to be truly inclusive.
Thirdly, we are pleased to see the Commission targets the finance sector and calls for changes in mindsets. Our work has shown that reforms such as taxation of health-harming products and subsidising of healthy ones are important mechanisms. Environments which support investments in health promotion can lead to public savings on health and social care; they also provide a good rate of return. We need to reform health systems to make preventing diseases more financially rewarding. Striving towards an Economy of Wellbeing captures these ambitions and shift in mindsets.
Finally, we welcome the Commission’s call for organisations and partnerships such as ours to “engage in and support” in the implementation of its recommendations. Non-State Actors and civil society bodies have so much potential to help – if their participation is engrained throughout processes – including design phases.
As this Commission stated in their call for action “we will not repair our fractures with business as usual, we need a new and ambitious approach that goes beyond anything we have done so far”. the EuroHealthNet Partnership is ready to act now, also in the context of our new Memorandum of Understanding with WHO Europe. We offer our congratulations on the work achieved so far.
Provisional Agenda item 3 “COVID-19 lessons learned: getting ready for the next pandemic” – Joint Statement by EuroHealthNet and EUPHA
Dear Chair, Mr President, Regional Director, honourable ministers, representatives, and distinguished delegates of the WHO European Region Member States,
We welcome the opportunity to reflect on lessons learned from the ongoing pandemic. EuroHealthNet, the European Partnership for Health, Equity and Wellbeing, and EUPHA, the European Public Health Association, together with other NSA stakeholders*, stress again the alarmingly unequal experiences of COVID-19. Much higher rates of infection and mortality are being observed amongst the most disadvantaged communities, as a result of pre-existing infrastructural weaknesses, as well as the lack of specific attention given to protecting those with a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.
It is evident that COVID-19 has heavily exacerbated existing health inequalities in our societies, and vice versa, proving it is not only a pandemic, but a syndemic. With our already under-resourced health ecosystems and the threats of the climate crisis already at our doorstep, catastrophic consequences lie ahead if we do not change our course of action to also include the needs of vulnerable groups. We have reached a critical stage where overlooking the persisting problem of health inequity is a part of the problem. As a strong community of European leaders, we need to address these health inequalities today, to ensure that we are resilient enough to withstand tomorrow’s inevitable pandemics.
As we move forward, it is imperative to apply health equity as a fundamental performance indicator. This will demonstrate whether we recover from the pandemic effectively, and foster resilience for future crises. We need to “build back fairer”.
Specifically, we call for:
- Enabling universal access to quality health services
- Strengthening integrated, rights-based primary and community care across the life-course, focusing on childhood and the later years, while also supporting sustainable investments in social services;
- Including psycho-social and gender-equity considerations in crisis recovery and preparedness plans;
- Addressing digital and health literacy to ensure equitable access;
- Building resilience in health and social care, through for example, skills-building for health promotion and disease prevention and ensuring professionals are well-equipped for future crises;
- Gathering and using behavioural insights to understand the barriers to optimal health outcomes;
- Accelerating research and analysis of health data across all population groups for more targeted and inclusive health promotion and prevention.
We highlight again the important role that civil society, social partners, and community groups play in the COVID-19 response. The insufficient recognition and utilisation of such organisations by governments throughout the pandemic have shown the need for more inclusive mechanisms and capacity-building for participatory action.
EuroHealthNet and EUPHA, together with their members and supporting NSA organisations reaffirm their commitment to health equity. We will continue working tirelessly for a better future that leaves no one behind. It is, therefore, with a sense of urgency, that we also call upon all our partners again to act on these health inequalities now and rebuild a health(y) ecosystem with equity at its core.
Thank you for your attention.
EuroHealthNet and EUPHA*, Brussels, 8 September 2021
*Other supporting Non-State Actors include:
- International Federation on Ageing (IFA)
- European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) (a member of the Public Services Intenrational )
- World Obesity Federation
- European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC)
- International Diabetes Federation European Region (IDF Europe)
- European Cancer Organisation
- European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations
- European Public Health Alliance (EPHA)
- European Forum for Primary Care (EFPC)
Joint Statements and statements that EuroHealthNet endorsed
- EuroHealthNet participated in a Joint Statement with the Mental Health Coalition, led by Mental Health Europe. Other partners were the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) and Alzheimer’s Disease InternationaFind the statement here.
- EuroHealthNet endorsed a statement led by the European Forum for Primary Care on reinventing primary health care in the post-COVID-19 era. Find the statement here.
- EuroHealthNet made a joint statement about WHO/Europe’s engagement with non-state actors. Find the statement here.