Daring to do more, the EU presents its new global health policy framework at the World Health Assembly

20 May 2010

WHA_side_event_011v2Delegates and observers at the 63rd World Health Assembly gathered today at the UN in Geneva for a side-event organized by the Spanish Presidency of the EU, the European Commission and Global Health Europe. Reaching out to a broader community of global health stakeholders, the event brought together experts from Brazil, Thailand and South Africa with experts from the EU, the World Health Organization and Global Health Europe to discuss the challenges and opportunities for improved collaboration between the EU and other regions for global health.

The premise for this discussion was the new EU policy framework on "the EU Role in Global Health." The policy focuses on four interrelated areas, governance, universal coverage, coherence and knowledge for global health, and in so doing brings together distinct directorates of the European Commission to work on issues that cut across traditional policy silos. Stepping-up multi- and bi-lateral health relations is an integral feature if this policy.

The rationale for this new policy was presented by the European Commission, which saw a need for the EU to have a clearer vision, voice and action on global health given the rise of health on the global agenda and in light of new interdisciplinary health challenges brought on by changes in demography, lifestyle, diet, urbanization, and environmental degradation to name a few. EU Council conclusions on "the EU Role in Global Health" where adopted on 10 May 2010 and provide the European Commission and Member States "with a guiding tool and a mandate to do more," said the Spanish Presidency.

WHO Assistant Director General for health Systems anWHA_side_event__001v2d Services, Carissa Etienne referred to the adoption of the new EU policyframework as a historic event and applauded the EU's emphasis on global solidarity, equity and improved coordination at global, regional and national levels. "In a good partnership each partner brings something valuable to the table," said Etienne, "and the EU brings leadership."

The event was chaired by Professor Ilona Kickbusch, Chair of the Global Health Europe Task Force. "This framework shows how difficult it is when one strives to create a policy that goes beyond a handful of diseases to address global health in all its complexity," said Kickbusch, "but now for the first time there is a clear policy statement and it is up to all of us to hold the EU to the principles it is championing for global health."

Reflecting on the new policy, a panel of experts dared the EU to do more to effect change. "The EU has three key strengths," said Dr. Suwit Wibulpolprasert, Senior Advisor on disease control for Thai Ministry of Health, "first they have a collective social spirit supporting universal access to health services, second, the EU has unrivalled collective intellectual capital, and third, the EU has the financial resources -- you can change the world! It's a pity that you do not dare to."

Regarding research and evidence for global health Professor Anthony Mbewu, Executive Director of the Global Forum for Health Research also pushed the EU to do more on the social and economic determinants of health and to partner with developing countries on health promotion, social and behavioural research. "Capacities need to be built but don't underestimate the capabilities developing countries have to conduct from basic research all the way up through the research and development pipeline-developing countries are not only just good for clinical trials" said Mbewu.

In a cautionary word to the EU Professor Paulo Buss, Brazilian representative to the WHO Executive Board said "there must be mechanisms in place in order to implement real policy coherence for global health." Buss reminded the EU that there have been many strategies in the recent past, from the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness to the Oslo Declaration on health and foreign policy, but questioned how much progress has been made

Whatever the perspective one takes it is clear that the EU has sparked a momentous debate on how a truly global health policy can best be implemented. This discussion will continue in Brussels 10-11 June where the Commission will be hosting a high-level event on global health


Speaker Presentations

Presentation by the European Commission: The EU Role in Global Health (PDF)

Presentation by the Spanish Presidency of the EU: Global Health Under the Spanish Presidency (PDF)

Additional information