Invest in Health Workforce to Combat Pandemic, Climate and War, Kluge Appeals
WHO Europe Director Dr Hans Kluge pitches his “moonshot”.

European finance ministers need to recognise that the “permacrisis” of the pandemic, climate change and the war in Ukraine pose as big a danger as a nuclear threat, and double their investment in the health workforce, according to World Health Organization (WHO) Europe director Dr Hans Kluge.

This, added Kluge, was his “moonshot” for a truly European health union – the theme of the European Health Forum in Gastein that he was addressing on Tuesday.

“According to some reports, nine out of 10 nurses would like to quit their job, 80% of the nurses had psychological distress, and 40% of the medical doctors in our region are close to retirement age,” Kluge told the forum.

In addition, health workers were migrating from poorer countries to in the east to the wealthier west.

“We have medical deserts, where you have rural areas where you don’t find any doctors or nurses, and this is a big challenge,” said Kluge.

Resilience and stronger health systems

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said that both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine had shown the region that it needed to focus on “resilience and stronger health systems”.

“EU Member States and other countries are supporting Ukraine with emergency assistance to a level that I believe we haven’t seen before. We’re delivering medicines, personal protective equipment, ambulances, food and shelter,” said Kyriakides, adding the EU had also set up a medical evacuation system that had enabled 1,300 patients to get special treatment outside of Ukraine.

“Wars have huge consequences at all levels and so much human suffering. But we are, as an EU, in there for the long haul to support Ukraine, and we need to be prepared for more difficult autumn and winter months,” said Kyriakides.  “We must never forget the backbone of health systems which is a health workforce.”

The European Commission’s Nathalie Berger, who is Director for Support to Member States’ Reforms, said that 17 member states were being supported to reduce their dependence on Russian fossil fuels and identify and develop renewable energy sources. 

Getting through winter

Daniels Pavluts, Minister for Health in Latvia

Government ministers from Austria and Latvia were simply and immediately focused on regional co-operation to survive the winter without gas from Russia.

Latvian Health Miniser Daniels Pavluts, outlined his two priorities: to help Ukraine win the war and second, to get through the winter. 

Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have been “among the leading countries providing bilateral help to Ukraine”, said Pavluts, adding that his country had provided treatment and rehabilitation for Ukrainian soldiers and other victims of hostilities, and taken in about 40,000 refugees. 

“We have shared borders with Belarus and Russia and we can easily imagine ourselves being in the place of Ukraine. It is our duty to help Ukraine win this war,” said Pavluts.

Latvian health officials were travelling to Ukraine, to learn “how they operate in these conditions of war” and also how to prepare for nuclear threats, he added.

Breaking dependence on fossil fuels

Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Energy,

Leonore Gewessler, Austria’s Minister for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology, said that the multiple crises had made government officials break out of their silos.

“You have a minister of health on this panel who speaks as much about war and foreign policy as health. And you now a minister of climate action and energy who speaks as much on social effects of climate policy and health effects of the climate crisis,” said Gewessler.

She was particularly challenged by “the war in Ukraine, and its effects it has both in Ukraine and on Europe’s insecurity of energy supply and the social aspects of the price hikes that we see”.

She was also trying to help people affected by the climate crisis, including “young people who are becoming increasingly anxious about a very existential threat to their well-being”.

“The root of the problem is our dependency on fossil fuels, especially our dependency on Russian fossil fuels,” she added.

In the short-term, “I will need every kilowatt hour that I can get to make sure that I can heat homes as Vladimir Putin does  now uses gas supply as a weapon”, she said.

“In the long term, the only solution is to go renewable and as independent as we can to produce as much of our energy ourselves as much as we can. And this means from every way ,we get rid of our dependency on fossil fuels – solar panel by solar panel, by heat pumps, windmill to windmill.”

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