WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, recently visited a number of countries in the European Region, as COVID-19 vaccines continue to be deployed, offering hope in the fight against the pandemic.
Visiting Serbia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, Dr Kluge had the opportunity to meet with key decision makers as well as health workers and patients.
After meeting Dr Zlatibor Lončar, Minister of Health of Serbia, Dr Kluge visited a vaccination center at the Belgrade Fair. He praised the country for its success in deploying vaccines, using digital health – in the form of web pages to register for immunization. People who sign up receive a text or email when it’s their turn to get the vaccine, which makes the process easier.
The next day, Dr Kluge attended the opening of the cold rooms of the Torlak Institute, alongside Dr Lončar. WHO has provided financial support for cold rooms, which secure the cold chain – a temperature-controlled supply chain – for COVID-19 vaccines.
During the country visit, Dr Kluge had the opportunity to speak with President Aleksandar Vučić about COVID-19, including the roll-out of vaccination and solidarity with other countries, as well and the ongoing European Work Program 2020-2025 (EPW), with particular emphasis on the Western Balkans Health Roadmap 2021-2025.
In Hungary, Dr Kluge had the opportunity to meet with high-level representatives, including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, on a number of issues affecting health in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear the importance of investing in health to strengthen health systems – an issue discussed between the regional director and the prime minister.
In addition, Dr Kluge has witnessed the tireless efforts of the staff of the Korányi National Institute for Tuberculosis and Pulmonology in Budapest. The Institute presented the results of several projects implemented in close collaboration with WHO, which aim to find new modalities for models of care supported by efficient payment mechanisms and clinical governance.
The Institute was one of the first in the country to be redesigned as a COVID-19 hospital, completing its conversion in record time, while maintaining some non-COVID-19 health services. Addressing the staff, Dr Kluge praised them for their work in combating the pandemic, while also working to manage patients with noncommunicable diseases and tuberculosis.
Visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr Kluge spoke with high-level representatives, seeking to build on support for EPW, linked to the Western Balkans Health Roadmap 2021-2025 . The roadmap places health at the center of the country’s economic growth agenda – linking health and the economy, an issue that was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Kluge met with the President and members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina to discuss the EPW – this is the first time that a WHO Regional Director for Europe has met the Presidency in person.
In addition, Dr Kluge signed a biennial collaborative agreement with Minister of Civil Affairs Ankica Gudeljević, focused on building emergency resilient, financially stable and strong health systems to leave no one behind. health matters.
While in Montenegro, Dr Kluge spoke to parliamentarians about pan-European and country-specific health issues, including tobacco control and universal health coverage. The regional director also underlined the importance of health workers during a speech to the parliamentary committee on health, labor and social protection. In addition, Dr Kluge met with Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić, to discuss EPW and its importance for health in the Region.
Montenegro has also worked to strengthen governance, surveillance, diagnostics and clinical management, as part of digital health innovation in the country. This is an important part of the EPW, a point made clear during discussions with Minister of Health Jelena Borovinić Bojović.
The visit also provided an opportunity to discuss digital health and immunization and their role in responding to the pandemic with health workers from a primary health care center in the capital Podgorica. These centers have helped bring health care and vaccine deployment closer to communities.