Special session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe: summary and results

The ongoing war in Ukraine and its impact on health conditions at the local level, as well as health issues at the regional level and beyond, were the focus of a special session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe today.

The virtual special session, hosted by WHO/Europe in Copenhagen, Denmark, was convened by Ukraine and 42 other Member States, including the 27 Member States of the European Union.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge described WHO’s efforts and commitment to support the Ukrainian people both now and in the long term.

The main objective of the extraordinary session was a draft resolution proposed by 38 Member States with 3 key demands:

  • for the Regional Director to explore options to safeguard the work of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD Office), including through its relocation to an area outside the Russian Federation ;
  • that the Regional Director consider temporarily suspending all regional meetings in the Russian Federation; and
  • for the Director-General of WHO to prepare a specific report for consideration at the next Seventy-fifth World Health Assembly, assessing the health emergency in Ukraine and related international health risks and proposed responses.

After several countries commented on the proposed resolution, a roll-call vote was held. Of the 48 Member States present to vote, 43 voted in favor of the adoption of the resolution, 3 voted against and 2 abstained. The resolution was therefore adopted by a large majority.

The outcome of the extraordinary session of the Regional Committee will now be officially transmitted to the Director-General of WHO. In accordance with the resolution, Dr Tedros will bring this issue to the attention of the World Health Assembly and prepare a dedicated report, with input from WHO/Europe, assessing the health emergency in Ukraine, the health risks resulting from it and the proposed responses.

Concluding today’s meeting, the Regional Director said: “Times are tough, but WHO’s determination to put health at the center of the recovery – rising above politics – is stronger than ever. As we discuss and debate, real lives of real people are at stake – millions of children, women and men. Let’s never lose sight of that. Every action has an impact; It can take time to think through all the consequences, but our ultimate goal is to ensure the health and well-being of the people we are mandated to serve.

Dr Kluge concluded: “Pan-European unity is more than a slogan – it is the best way forward to ensure health for all. Let us remember the spirit that created the European program of work, unanimously approved in 2020 by the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region. It is this spirit that should guide us in the future.

About the regional committee

The Regional Committee is the highest decision-making body for the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region. It normally meets once a year, in September, to define the political commitment to improving the health and health conditions of people living in the Region and to guide the work of WHO/Europe.

The 72nd session of the Regional Committee will be held from 12 to 14 September 2022 in Tel Aviv, Israel.