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European Commission and WHO - a healthy partnership continues and strengthens collaboration

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission today held a series of high-level consultations in Brussels to strengthen and widen their collaboration in the field of public health. Commissioners David Byrne, Pascal Lamy, Philippe Busquin, Margot Wallström and the head of cabinet of Commissioner Nielson had discussions with the Director-General of WHO, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, and WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Marc Danzon. They discussed joint strategies to address a wide range of health issues, including: communicable disease control - and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in particular - the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a global strategy on diet, physical activity and health, global health research, environment and health, and the strategic partnership between the EU and the WHO in the field of development. The diversity of issues addressed during the meetings shows the ever-increasing co-operation between WHO and the European Commission.

Communicable Diseases, health information and risk reduction

During their third high-level meeting, Commissioner Byrne, Dr Brundtland and Dr Danzon discussed the development of frameworks and mechanisms for enhanced co-operation, including possibilities of strengthening each organisation's involvement and participation in the policy-making process of the other and developing more systematic dialogue on emerging public health issues. They stressed the importance of communicable disease control and of health security, discussing in particular the European Centre for Disease prevention and control. Effective synergies between the EU Early Warning and Response System and the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network are more needed than ever in the light of the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Increased co-operation in the field of health information was considered a priority for the next phase of collaboration between the WHO and the Commission's Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection, as were monitoring of health system performance and the health aspects of the EU enlargement. In this regard, collaborative work between the Commission and the WHO European office is of particular importance.

Discussions were also devoted to the WHO strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, in the more general framework of risk reduction. In this regard, the joint efforts of the Commission and WHO were instrumental in the negotiations to establish a strong and globally binding WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which should be adopted by the World Health Assembly due to meet in Geneva later this month.

WHO and the Commission will continue to work closely together to put tobacco control in developing countries on the international development agenda.

Trade and health

Dr Brundtland and Commissioner Pascal Lamy discussed once again major trade related efforts to improve access to medicines. The Declaration on the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) and Public Health made at the launch of the Doha Development Agenda underscored a pro-public health approach in international trade. The WHO welcomed the spirit in which the EU is conducting negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on compulsory licences for developing countries lacking manufacturing capacity. Both organisations agreed on the need to secure a deal as soon as possible. It was reiterated that WHO should be associated closely, where appropriate, by the WTO and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) on technical assistance to developing countries implementing the TRIPs Agreement along the lines of the Doha Declaration. Efforts will be strengthened to persuade R&D and generic pharmaceutical producers to offer the lowest possible prices on a sustainable basis (tiered prices) to the poorest countries to make essential medicines affordable to all. Global co-operation and adequate financing will be needed to achieve this, as was shown by recent developments.

Research and health

Dr Brundtland and European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin discussed the implementation of health-related initiatives in the €17.5 billion 6th EU Research Framework Programme (2003-2006), including co-operation in the Europe-Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership Programme (EDCTP), to which the Commission will contribute €200 million. On top of that, the Commission will invest another €200 million in more basic research. EU Member States should contribute with a further €200 million. Additional resources will be allocated to EDCTP by other international donors. Key events in 2004 were also discussed, in particular the World Health Report, which will be devoted to health research, and the Ministerial Meeting on Global Health Research, due to take place in Mexico. It was agreed to enhance EU/WHO collaboration, particularly through participation in the respective policy, advisory and technical fora and by jointly convening technical meetings on subjects of common interest.

Health and development

The Director-General of WHO and the chef de cabinet of Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Poul Nielson, reviewed progress in the establishment of a strategic partnership between WHO and the European Commission in the field of health and development, taking note of the general framework of EC/UN co-operation. They discussed the joint action of the EC, WHO and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries on pharmaceutical policies; the high rates of maternal mortality in many developing countries; ways to optimise co-operation and support at country level; tobacco control; and closer co-operation with the EC's Humanitarian Office (ECHO).

Environment and Health

Commissioner Margot Wallström briefed Dr Brundtland on the new EC environment and health strategy and WHO's role in its implementation was discussed. As a follow-up to the Johannesburg 2002 Conference, they discussed the role of the European Commission in the Global alliance on healthy environment for children. Another important issue was discussion of the preparation and expected outcomes of the Ministerial Meeting on Environment and Health which will take place in Budapest in 2004.


The increasing collaboration between the World Health Organization and the European Commission stems from an Exchange of Letters in December 2000 (O.J. 2001/C 1/04), which identified various priority areas, including health information, communicable diseases, tobacco, mental health, environment and health, nutrition and alcohol. It set up various co-operation mechanisms:

  • high-level meetings between Commissioner Byrne and WHO Director-General Brundtland, aiming at an exchange of views and review of activities and working plans;
  • meetings of senior officials to review work progress in priority areas and to examine future collaborative projects;
  • co-ordination meetings between services to cover practical matters of co-operation.

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