Regional Director visits newly opened GDO in Istanbul and speaks at Turkic Council on country visit

On a recent country visit to Turkey at the invitation of Minister of Health Dr Fahrettin Koca, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge delivered a keynote address at the Health Scientific Board of the Turkic Council and spoke with Mr Baghdad Amreyev, Secretary General of the Turkic Council.

The Regional Director’s visit also offered the opportunity to visit WHO/Europe’s new geographically dispersed office (GDO) in Istanbul, which will be a centre of excellence for preparedness for humanitarian and health emergencies.

Preparedness for humanitarian and health emergencies

Earlier this year, WHO/Europe and Turkey’s Ministry of Health signed an agreement to establish the new GDO focusing on preparedness for humanitarian and health emergencies. Dr Kluge met with Deputy Minister of Health Professor Emine Alp Meşe and expressed his thanks to the Ministry for their support in establishing the GDO.

Dr Kluge reiterated that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the real and lasting impact of health emergencies on health systems. He spoke of the importance of ensuring that countries have the necessary capacities to prepare for health emergencies. The GDO will be a regional centre for such capacity-building and training.

Emergency preparedness is strongly emphasized under the European Programme of Work (EPW), United Action for Better Health, which envisages protecting more people from health emergencies as one of its core priorities. This will also contribute to the triple-billion goals highlighted in WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work.

Speech at the Turkic Council

In his keynote speech at the fourth meeting of the Health Scientific Board of the Turkic Council, Dr Kluge stressed the importance of subregional networks like the Turkic Council, which help coordination on health security threats such as COVID-19. In addition, Dr Kluge spoke of the need for greater understanding how health and livelihoods interlink, and emphasized how decisive measures taken early to control the pandemic will, in the long run, benefit the economy.

The meeting also provided an opportunity to speak with other health ministers, including Dr Alexey Tsoy of Kazakhstan, Dr Alymkadyr Beyshenaliev of Kyrgyzstan and Dr Alisher Shadmanov of Uzbekistan.

Working together with United Nations partners

Central to WHO’s work in countries, partners play a vital role in improving health care. Dr Kluge met with Ms Alanna Armitage, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). He thanked UNFPA for their collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic and recognized ongoing work between the agencies, including an agreement and joint work plan on the implementation of the WHO European Action Plan on Sexual and Reproductive Health in countries of eastern Europe and central Asia. Dr Kluge and Ms Armitage spoke about the importance of sexual and reproductive health and maternal health to both agencies, adding that a new action plan should be planned together between WHO/Europe and UNFPA.

In a separate set of meetings, Dr Kluge spoke with Ms Gwi Yeop Son of the United Nations Development Coordination Office (UNDCO) about possible areas for collaboration with the opening of the new GDO in Istanbul. The meeting also offered the chance to highlight the implementation of the EPW, which regards partnerships with other United Nations agencies as an important part of success. The discussions covered how WHO/Europe and UNDCO can work together to ensure that any potential COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out smoothly in countries of Europe and central Asia.

Responding to an earthquake

During the visit, an earthquake struck Izmir and affected other parts of Turkey as well as neighbouring Greece. The Regional Director expressed his condolences to the Turkish authorities and offered WHO/Europe’s support. The WHO Country Office in Turkey immediately mobilized a response to support partners in the Ministry of Health as well as the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD).

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