HRH The Crown Princess’ speech to the 67th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe on 11 September 2017, Budapest

Offentliggjort den 11. september 2017

Honorable Ministers, our new WHO Director General, Regional Director, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

Thank you, Zsuzsanna once again for inviting me to take part in the Regional Committee for Europe, this being the 67th Session, hosted by the Hungarian government, here in the beautiful city of Budapest. This is the 7th Regional Committee that I have attended as Patron of the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe, and I always look forward to this occasion, where leaders and champions join together to shape Europe’s future agenda for the health and well-being of the people of the European Region.

I would like to take this opportunity, in front of this distinguished audience, to congratulate the new WHO Director General, Dr Tedros and express how pleased I am to see that the priorities that you have already communicated are fully aligned with those of the European Region.

As the new era of work in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals has commenced, it is extremely timely that we are called to discuss and support the new roadmap that implements the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, building (of course) on Health 2020. The roadmap highlights the Region’s priorities and gives us a common direction.

To achieve the SDGs we need to ensure better, more equitable, sustainable health and well-being for all at all ages: this is universal health coverage. When the opportunity presents itself I communicate and promote this concept through issues that I believe require particular focus and action: maternal and child health, immunization, and combating antimicrobial resistance.

The health, dignity and rights of women, children and adolescents are at the cornerstone of our societies. It is through maternal and child mortality that we measure the health status of a country. It is an essential indicator for observing progress and it establishes clearly that unless we address gender gaps and violence; unless we ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; unless we stop targeting children and adolescents with adult-tailored interventions and start designing interventions that meet their specific needs; we will not achieve the health and development targets outlined in the SDGs.

We cannot forget the importance of investing in children and adolescents, they are our future.  Their ability and possibility to fulfill their full potential will be a testament to the actions we take today. If we fail them, their chance of success is questionable but, if we succeed for them, they will most definitely succeed.

From the earliest stages of life, children need protection. Few of our interventions have had a greater impact on global health than vaccines. Vaccination programs are the foundation of any strong health system and serves to strengthen societies and address inequities. Vaccines are the safest and most effective tools for preventing infectious diseases. Vaccines also positively impact our health and well-being, our education, employment and our national economies. Therefore, it is a good sign that over two thirds of this Region’s countries have interrupted the endemic transmission of measles and rubella.

However, vaccine supply and demand challenges in many countries have resulted in a failure to achieve the desired coverage levels in Europe. This failure has lead to vaccine-preventable disease resurgence, hospitalizations and deaths, and outbreak-associated economic costs. One in 10 children in the European Region remains under-vaccinated.

Disturbingly, measles continue to spread and has lead to tragic loss of life in the heart of Europe. It is extremely sad, that 41 people have died from measles in the past year, that is 41 deaths from a disease that can be avoided with just two shots of an available vaccine.  

This illustrates all too clearly that whilst we see steady progress towards regional and global eradication and elimination and control goals, more needs to be done and we must remain vigilant. We must ensure that the next generation is afforded the opportunity to achieve their full potential without the threat of illness or death due to vaccine preventable diseases.

In November 2016, I had the privilege to visit the Republic of Moldova together with the Regional Director.  Our visit focused on the importance of maintaining the momentum of immunization programs. This visit contributed to increased efforts to eliminate measles and rubella and accelerate the introduction of Human Papilloma Vaccine in the country.

Our visit also focused on maternal and child health and the importance of tackling AMR. I am convinced that AMR is one of the major threats of our time to the health of humans and animals and therefore my support on this issue will continue.  

Despite the political commitment, it is evident that many people in many countries still fail to understand the consequences of the way they use or misuse antibiotics. Unfortunately, this is also the case in Europe. AMR affects us all, therefore it’s essential that this threat is communicated simply and widely, so that everybody has the necessary level of understanding and can act accordingly. We have the knowledge and know-how; therefore there is no excuse for not acting.

Last year, I supported the World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW) with a statement recognizing the work and the role of health care workers - the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and hospital-prescribers who depend on political support as frontline protectors of the effectiveness of antibiotics.

This year‘s Awareness Week will build on previous campaigns and highlight the importance of infection prevention and control measures to decrease AMR. I invite you all to join forces and come together during this week in November. Europe has been leading this fight during the past years, now it is time to show the world we can make a difference and reduce AMR.

It will take a strong WHO to do that in Europe and globally. A WHO that listens to you, the Member States, and responds to your needs and paves the way in public health. An illustrative example of this is the capacity building of WHO in prevention, preparedness and response to health emergencies. In the words of our DG, Dr Tedros, “universal health coverage and health emergencies are cousins - two sides of the same coin”. Here we see a WHO consistent with its objectives and committed to the role as the leading global health authority.

As Patron of the WHO European Office for Europe, I am encouraged by these transformative actions and proud to be contributing where I can to this work. 

Over the next few days there is much to be discussed: vaccines and migration, AMR and tuberculosis, as well as the 10 years of the International Health Regulations, the platform to improve health security. You will be called on to make decisions on a sustainable health workforce, access to medicines, the environment and health. You will be setting the stage for strong health systems that are critical for the implementation and ultimately, the achievement of the SDGs.

I wish you a productive week ahead. And lastly, I would like to thank you for the personal investment that each of you are making towards the health and well-being of each and every citizen of the Europe Region.

Thank you.