The World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe has inaugurated the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development. The goal of the commission is to draw lessons on how different countries’ health systems responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and make recommendations on investments and reforms to improve the resilience of health and social care systems…

The independent commission initiated by Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, held its inaugural meeting on August 26, 2020. The commission consists of distinguished individuals from a range of disciplines with a gender and geographic balance.

In the inaugural meeting, the members highlighted the importance of understanding that health and the economy are intrinsically linked and therefore require appropriate investments. The inaugural meeting also emphasized that international as well as supranational solutions are necessary to tackle global crises such as the response to COVID-19.

I convened the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development to rethink policies in the light of pandemics,” said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, as per WHO Europe.

The Commission addresses the need to rethink policy priorities and position health at the top of the political agenda, acknowledging that health is a powerful determinant of economic development and social cohesion.”

Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe

The objectives of the commission are as follows:

  1. Reconsidering policy-making following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  2. Identifying challenges and opportunities for health and social care systems in the WHO European Region;
  3. Making evidence-based recommendations on ensuring that policy-making and governance consider the potential impact of pandemics, upgrading the structure of and investment in health systems, building resilience in health systems and calculating the short- and long-term costs of inaction.

The commission is chaired by Professor Mario Monti, President of Bocconi University and a former Italian Prime Minister and European Commissioner.

The Commission’s Scientific Advisory Board will work with WHO Europe to gather evidence, identify possibilities for investment and priorities of health systems. After evaluating the evidence it will provide independent advice on improving health system resilience.

Further, the Commission will review the challenges facing health systems over the coming 20 to 30 years, prioritize the outcomes of long-term health systems resilience policies and promote equity of access to health services.

The commission will provide a report highlighting policy options to strengthen health systems and societies across the European Region when faced with major health and socioeconomic challenges. This report will be published in 2021.

The Commission will take a magnifying glass to current economic and social policies, using the evidence of how these policies have performed in light of this pandemic,” said Professor Mario Monti, Chairperson of the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development, as per WHO Europe.

We will make recommendations on how such policies should be enhanced at the national and international levels to forecast, prevent and respond to future crises.”

Professor Mario Monti, Chairperson, Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development, President of Bocconi University and a former Italian Prime Minister and European Commissioner.

Alcohol and COVID‐19: special concerns

Prioritizing alcohol policy has proven effective specially in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. For example the alcohol sales ban in South Africa proved effective in containing not just the spread of the virus but trauma patients in hospitals which alleviated the burden from hospitals. There are many examples documented by Movendi International in which alcohol policy solutions contributed to containing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent scientific analysis illustrated that alcohol use poses special problems in relation to the COVID‐19 pandemic which have implications for public health and health care. 

  1. Heavy alcohol use increases risk for severe lung infections (including both viral and bacterial pneumonia) and ensuing respiratory problems. 
  2. There are many reports of domestic violence spiking around the world as people are required to spend long hours together in their homes. Alcohol use increases the risk that interpersonal conflicts will result in violent behaviour. 
  3. Alcohol use in the home may also compromise children’s welfare. 
  4. Alcohol is a significant risk factor for depression and suicide, which may be more prevalent during this time of enforced social isolation. 
  5. Being impaired with alcohol will make it harder for people to attend to basic precautions for avoiding infection, such as physical distancing, hand washing and not touching one’s face.
  6. Alcohol harm places a heavy burden on the healthcare system and emergency services. Globally, alcohol contributes to ca. 20% of injury and ca. 11.5% of non‐injury emergency room presentations.

In March 2020, Movendi International issued a statement of concern addressing three worrying trends of how the alcohol industry is seeking to exploit the pandemic and in doing so is fueling more harm. These include free PR and extensive media coverage of a health harmful industry; preferential treatment of alcohol producers by regulators that might foment alcohol harm; and deregulation and weakening alcohol policy protections.

In light of these alcohol industry tactics to exploit the global public health crisis, Movendi International calls for three urgent actions – that seem to apply to the work of the new Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development:

  • Political leadership and commitment to tackling alcohol harm as obstacle to development and health system sustainability,
  • Declare alcohol retail outlets “non-essential” and find effective ways to care for all people affected by alcohol harm during the crisis, and
  • Terminate alcohol subsidies and instead increase alcohol prices through alcohol taxation in order to reinvest the resources into the healthcare system functioning.

With these interconnections between alcohol harm and COVID-19, and given the facts that alcohol is a serious obstacle to sustainable development, the positive impact of alcohol policy solutions is one of those topics that the new commission is bound to explore.

Source Website: WHO Europe