New Social Contract and One Health Approach Critical to Resilient Recovery from COVID Pandemic
Panelists at the closing session of the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) on Friday.

A new social contract between European governments and their citizens is needed to lay the foundation for a resilient and sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, with health at the center, said panelists at the closing session of the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) on Friday.

A focus on ensuring social protection and equitable access to healthcare, employing the One Health approach in policies, and strengthening WHO would be essential to tackle the inequities and shortcomings in preparedness and response at national and global levels revealed by COVID.

“We can’t go back to the old normal, we do need a new normal for WHO, for the European Union. It’s not an option to continue with old fashioned health politics or policies. We have to rise like a phoenix,” said Clemens Martin Auer, President of the European Health Forum Gastein, referencing the theme of this year’s conference, “Rise Like a Phoenix” – Health at the Heart of a Resilient Future for Europe.

“We cannot have resilient health systems if we don’t change how our societies and our politics are operating,” said Auer. 

The world must take advantage of the momentum behind health at the moment to push for investment in health systems and innovations, reform of WHO, and prioritization of equitable access to healthcare.

“The issues concerning health have now reached such a high degree of attention that it is impossible for policymakers to neglect them,” said Professor Mario Monti, former Prime Minister of Italy and Chair of the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development. “To avoid shifts in discussions, we need institutional structures and policy  processes to help keep the momentum we now have on health going ahead.” 

“We have to keep health in the driver’s seat for the future,” said Auer. 

Clemens Martin Auer, President of the European Health Forum Gastein.

Adopting One Health policy and improving global health governance

Putting health systems on a trajectory to be better prepared to combat future threats will require a One Health approach and the global coordination of health policies, said the panelists on Friday. 

Developing a One Health-based understanding of health is critical to preparing for and addressing future health threats in the animal, human and environment interface, said Monti.

One Health means the design and execution of programmes and policies in which multiple sectors work together to achieve better public health outcomes. Examples include working with the food, agriculture and livestock sector to prevent zoonotic diseases from leaping to  human populations; and working with transport and energy sectors to curb health-harmful air pollution and climate change. 

Operationalizing the concept of One Health at national, regional, and global levels was one of the main objectives from the recent Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development report published in early September.

The report reflects on the WHO European region’s response to COVID and makes a series of recommendations for the 53 WHO member states in the WHO European region. 

“Our recommendations design a new strategy for health and sustainable development. This requires awareness of the interconnections between human, animal and plant health and their impact on emerging zoonotic diseases; of the links between climate change, biodiversity and human health; and of the need to reinvigorate and extend our national health services,” said Monti.

Professor Mario Monti, former Prime Minister of Italy and Chair of the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development.

National governments are encouraged to establish structures to develop cross-government One Health strategies; international agencies, such as WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), are urged to strengthen mechanisms for collaboration; and coordinated action at all levels to reduce environmental risks to health is advised. 

Empowering WHO to assess national emergency preparedness more rigorously

This should be accompanied by efforts to strengthen the WHO – empowering the organization to conduct periodic assessments of national health systems and assess their emergency preparedness and response capacity. 

At the regional level of WHO, a Pan-European Network for Disease Control is proposed to provide rapid and effective responses to emerging threats and to improve health governance in the European region. 

In addition, the report recommends that a Pan-European Health Threats Council is established to enhance and maintain political commitment and to ensure cooperation and accountability between governments.

“We believe that this will be quite a powerful response in terms of adapting our institutions to the huge transnationality of health phenomena that we have seen in the course of this pandemic,” said Monti.

“At the global level, we need to keep all the responsibilities for health with the WHO and strengthen and make WHO more accountable and independent,” said Monti. 

Global coordination of health, economic, and financial policies would be improved by the establishment of a Global Health Board under the G20 – an intergovernmental forum comprising 19 countries and the European Union.

The proposed Global Health Board could support the development of health risk assessment tools and the mobilization of financial resources, ultimately enhancing the “systematic coexistence of the world of health and the world of finance,” said Monti.

“Unless health policy is put more at the center of, let’s say, the table of the Council of Ministers of national governments and global institutions, then we will not make much progress,” said Monti.

Image Credits: EHFG.

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