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Global Alliance between The European Commission and WHO to fight against Communicable Diseases, Tobacco and other Health Threats

Brussels -- The European Commission and WHO today held a series of high-level consultations in Brussels to take forward their global alliance in tackling tobacco and other health threats. Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne met WHO Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland to discuss joint strategies to address a wide range of health issues, including combating smoking, fight against communicable diseases, and nutrition and food safety. Dr Brundtland then had meetings with Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Poul Nielson as well as senior officials from the Commission's Directorate-General Environment to discuss co-operation in further key areas such access to medicines, health and development, health research, and environment and health.

The range of issues addressed during the second high-level meeting between Commissioner Byrne and Director-General Brundtland show the extent of co-operation between the Commission and the WHO.

"The Commission and WHO both have roles to play, and working together has a multiplying effect," Commissioner Byrne said. "We share goals, better health for all, we are natural allies and it makes sense to pursue these objectives together. A very good and pertinent example is the work we have undertaken with WHO to establish a globally binding Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This strengthens our own anti-smoking initiatives within the European Union. The high-level meeting has allowed us to set a political direction to focus our joint efforts for the future on priorities, such as poverty, EU Enlargement and children's' health."

Issues which were discussed include:

- the fight against smoking, for example through the successful completion of the negotiations for a strong Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the organisation of a high-level round table on tobacco control and development policy;

- communicable diseases, including increasing surveillance co-operation and capacity building, and working together to revise the International Health Regulations;

- collaborative work to develop new health information systems, especially between the Commission and WHO's European office;

- nutrition including collaboration in developing the new WHO nutrition strategy;

- future priority areas for co-operation, including strengthening the exisiting partnership in communicable diseases, tobacco, and health information, as well as exploring ways for co-operation in new areas such as health and EU Enlargement, poverty and health and children's health.

Trade related issues to improve access to medicines In their meeting, Dr Brundtland and Trade Commissioner Lamy agreed to push ahead with the agenda to improve access to medicines for developing countries.

Dr Brundtland commended Pascal Lamy for the spirit in which he is conducting negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on compulsory licenses for developing countries with limited or no manufacturing capacity. The two made the following joint statement:

"WHO and the EU agree that WTO members need to find a sustainable, balanced, and workable solution for these countries. In the spirit of the WTO Doha Ministerial Conference in 2001, the solution should be applicable in the shortest possible time. The solution should also be supportive of WTO Members' right to protect public health and to promote access to medicines for all.

"The Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health made at the launch of the Doha Development Agenda underscores a pro-public health approach in international trade. In its role as technical adviser on health issues and access to medical technologies, WHO looks forward to close cooperation with the EU.

"WHO will also seek to co-operate closely, where appropriate, with WTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on technical assistance to developing countries implementing the TRIPS Agreement along the lines of the Doha Declaration.

"Health care providers and consumers in the poorest countries need the lowest possible prices to make essential medicines affordable to all. We call for continued efforts by the international community, governments, research-based companies, and generic pharmaceutical producers to achieve this on a sustainable basis.

"The EU and WHO will continue to analyse the effects of abolishing tariffs and taxes on medicines imported into developing countries."

Health ResearchCommissioner Busquin and Director-General Brundtland discussed co-operation in health research including the 6th Research Framework Programme and establishing an EU-Developing Country Clinical Trials Programme.

Health and DevelopmentCommissioner Nielson and Director-General Brundtland discussed health in developing countries. They took stock of the ongoing co-operation on the programme of accelerated action on major communicable diseases and shared views on the agenda on health and poverty. Both sides have successfully co-operated in the Programme on Accelerated Action against Major Communicable Diseases. They have worked closely together in setting up of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis (TB) and Malaria and important achievements have been made: The Fund committed up to USD 616 m for the first two years on the occasion of the Second Board Meeting in New York on 22-24 April 2002 and only three months after the launch of proposals. Furthermore, Commission and WHO are working together on a partnership in pharmaceutical policies to improve the access to essential medicines in developing countries.

Nielson commended WHO on the Commission Report on Macroeconomics and Health of December 2001. The message of the report that investment in health directly contributes to economic growth and poverty reduction sets the agenda for increased investments in health. The recent Communication and Council Resolution, adopted on 30 May 2002, show that there is a strong common interest of the EU and WHO to support countries around poverty reduction strategies with funds linked to social development outcomes.

Both sides agreed to further develop a broader strategic partnership in order to join forces to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in health: to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, expand access to essential medicines, and have halted if not reversed the spread of AIDS, Malaria and TB by 2015.

The Commission and WHO also agreed to work closely together to put tobacco control in developing countries on the international development agenda.

Environment and HealthDirector-General Brundtland discussed with senior officials of the Commission's Directorate-General Environment the EU's Environment and Health Strategy, the WHO's new initiative on childrens' health and environment and sustainable development.

BackgroundThe new Exchange of Letters between WHO and the European Commission took place in December 2000 (O.J. 2001/C 1/04). This exchange identifies various priority areas, including health information, communicable diseases, tobacco, mental health, environment and health, nutrition and alcohol. It sets 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;

- coordination meetings between services to cover practical matters of co-operation.

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For more information contact:

Mr Philip Stroot
Telephone: +32 (2) 5064662
Fax: +32 (2) 506 4666
E-mail: strootp@who-eu.be