World Health Organization

International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance

ISSN: 0952-6862

Article publication date: 18 July 2008




(2008), "World Health Organization", International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 21 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

World Health Organization

Article Type: News and views From: International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Volume 21, Issue 5

Who is steering Europe towards better health? WHO calls on health ministries to do more to strengthen their governance role

Edited by Jo Lamb-White

Keywords: Quality health care, Resource management, Health systems improvement

Over 150 leading health experts from the 53 member states in the WHO European region are meeting in Rome, Italy, to discuss the governance of health systems and greater coordination on policies affecting health.

At the meeting, which is hosted by the Ministry of Health of Italy, country representatives and other experts are discussing how health ministries must act as stewards, taking the lead in developing health policies that favor effective, affordable, high-quality personal and population services, as well as in setting priorities across the whole government spectrum to promote health goals. The focus is on good governance, which includes transparency, accountability and working in partnership with health insurers, patient and consumer organizations, trade unions, employer organizations and others.

“We hope that the outcome of the meeting in Rome will go some way towards extending the influence of ministries of health, ensuring the availability of the necessary resources for personal and non-personal services to all, and putting health on the agenda of other sectors,” says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe, organizer of the meeting.

The health ministry’s role is, first, to ensure that effective and high-quality personal health care services are provided to all, and that the human and financial resources to do this are properly managed. In addition, many people benefit from the provision of population health services, often called public health services (such as inspections, educational campaigns, etc.), which prevent the occurrence of disease.

Many different factors – economic, agricultural, food-safety, social and educational, environmental, trade, energy, transport, taxation, etc. – affect health. “A vital part of a ministry of health’s work is to measure the impact of all factors that influence health, and search for the best combination in terms of allocation of resources. As some of these factors are beyond health care, the level of cooperation between different parts of government and at the international level must improve,” says Dr Nata Menabde, Deputy Regional Director at the WHO Regional Office for Europe. “Let me give you a couple of examples of national and international policies across Europe that have been established by other sectors, yet affect health. Owing to different pricing and taxation policies, the price of cigarettes in central and western Europe ranges from €0.67 to €8.08. Within the European Union, a scheme to support the provision of milk in schools gives the highest subsidy to full-fat milk, rather than lower-fat milk, despite dietary guidelines. Indeed, the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy traditionally does not subsidize the production of fruit and vegetables while it subsidizes the production of cereals, beef, olive oil, milk, wine and sugar, and even tobacco.”

Governments are under increasing pressure, being held accountable to their citizens for improving health systems’ performance by making sure they are fair, effective and responsive to the rising needs and expectations of populations. Informed decisions are expected on what actions benefit health most.

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