Ministers back 5-year plan to put health in Europe on track

Copenhagen, Denmark

  • Today, ministers of health and public health leaders from the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region endorsed a new 5-year vision, the European Programme of Work (EPW) 2020–2025, that sets down how WHO/Europe and its Member States will work together to meet citizens’ expectations for health.

“It is very encouraging to see Member States adopt this vision for health in our Region with such enthusiasm. I am gratified by their commitment to regional solidarity in the face of growing public health challenges, and their strong willingness to tackle pervasive inequalities,” he added.

The EPW, also known as “United Action for Better Health in Europe”, was discussed and agreed at the 70th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, the European Region’s health assembly, held virtually this year on 14–15 September 2020.

Under the EPW, European Member States will implement 3 core priorities:

  • 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.

These core priorities are anchored in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and are aligned with the global vision set out in WHO’s General Programme of Work 2019–2023.

“COVID-19 has brought to light the weaknesses and strengths of European society. It has bluntly revealed the reality of our health systems. The most vulnerable, such as older people and people with mental health needs, often carry the heaviest burden in health emergencies; solidarity and trust between people and health authorities are under pressure; and the voices of health leaders and scientists need to be heard by politicians because health and the economy are inextricably linked. The pandemic has forced us to address these issues very quickly, but the EPW shows us how to address them in a way that generates trust, better health and ultimately builds back better societies,” concluded Dr Kluge.

Lessons learned from COVID-19

At the Regional Committee session, Dr Kluge also outlined worrying interruptions to health services in the Region during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • 68% of Member States have reported a disruption to services for noncommunicable diseases, including monitoring of diabetes, hypertension and cancer screening;
  • countries are reporting and projecting a 10% increase in breast cancer mortality and a 15% increase in colon cancer mortality;
  • 6 countries in the Region, representing 22% of the infant population, have disrupted routine immunization schedules; and
  • in May, 28 countries reported a 50% decrease in case notifications for tuberculosis.

The following 3 key lessons are highlighted in the intra-action review of the COVID-19 response and detailed in the report of the Regional Director.

  • We need solidarity to succeed in health emergencies. Solidarity among individuals and communities and among countries involves sharing supplies, hosting patients in hospitals, sending health professionals, providing logistics support, and contributing to global initiatives such as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator to speed research, development, production, and fair allocation of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
  • We need stronger health systems for stronger health security. Stronger health systems can respond effectively to the pandemic by ensuring sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, test kits, intensive care beds, and tools to track and trace COVID-19 cases; by taking full advantage of innovative and integrated ways to deliver care with a well-trained workforce, strong links to social services and digital health solutions; and by maintaining the delivery of essential health services through dual-track service delivery.
  • We need to acknowledge health and economic prosperity as 2 sides of the same coin. Controlling virus transmission is a prerequisite for reopening businesses and trade, and the move from response to recovery offers an opportunity to put people and their health at the centre of policy, recognizing that public health is a driver of economic development, security and peace.

Notes to editors

The European Programme of Work 2020–2025

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 an intensive consultative process with Member States, the European Commission, the Central European Initiative, United Nations agencies, civil society and WHO staff, the EPW also takes account of the seismic changes that have taken place globally and across the Region due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WHO Regional Committee for Europe

The WHO Regional Committee for Europe is WHO’s decision-making body in the European Region. It comprises representatives of each Member State in the Region, and meets in September each year. This year’s session is the first Regional Committee under Dr Kluge, who was nominated by Member States as the new WHO Regional Director for Europe at last year’s session.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ministers, partner organizations and civil society are meeting virtually for a shortened programme. The session is webcast live in English and Russian, with proceedings covered on WHO/Europe’s social media channels using #RC70Europe.

Useful links

European Programme of Work 2020–2025 – “United Action for Better Health in Europe”

Report of the Regional Director on the work of WHO/Europe in 2019–2020

70th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe (virtual)

For more information or interview requests, please contact:

Liuba Negru Communications and Media Relations Officer WHO/Europe Tel.: +45 45 33 67 89 Mobile: +45 20 45 92 74 Email:

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