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Androulla Vassiliou

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health

The importance of international co-operation in the effectiveness of health systems

Second Euromed Ministerial Conference on Health: "Euromed Countries Together for Health"
Egypt, 17 November 2008

Ministers, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

I would like to thank the French and Egyptian co-presidencies of the Union for the Mediterranean for organising this important event and Minister Hatem Mustafa El-Gabaly for kindly hosting us here in Egypt.

Health is one of the most crucial issues in our partnership. One of the objectives of the Barcelona Process, launched in 1995, was to create a common area of peace, cooperation and prosperity. Such achievement cannot be reached without focusing on how to improve our citizens’ health.

With more than 700 million people living in the Euro-Mediterranean region the importance of the health sector for sustainable development is self evident. Today, we have an opportunity to ensure that our cooperation in the health sector improves and strengthens in the future.

Nine years have passed since the first Euro Mediterranean Ministerial conference on Health in Montpellier, where Ministers agreed on a number of actions in the field of communicable diseases, ranging from the development of professionals skills, collaboration in research, the use of new technologies, to prevention, surveillance and control.

Colleagues: Despite this long lapse of time, we kept working together across the Mediterranean with a common aim: to improve our health systems for today and for future generations, to face old and new health challenges, and to respond to unexpected risks and situations. Dialogue and cooperation across the Mediterranean has not stopped. A Euro Mediterranean Health Forum was held in Spain in 2005 and a Euro-Med Workshop on Communicable Diseases and health systems was held in Brussels last year.

In the last five months we have witnessed significant changes in the overall framework of our partnership. The Union for the Mediterranean has been launched by our Heads of States and Governments in July in Paris.

Just two weeks ago, Ministers of Foreign Affairs agreed in Marseille on the new institutional set up of the Union for the Mediterranean. Our partnership is now more balanced and more visible to our citizens. We need to harness these developments to the benefit of our cooperation in the health sector.

As we hold the first Ministerial meeting after Marseille we must set an example. Recent developments must not remain confined to the walls of this Ministerial meeting room. In a few hours time we shall approve a declaration, which would set the basis for a renewed health dimension, aimed at strengthening public health systems, promoting sustainable development, enhancing coordination of international activities, ensuring equal access to quality health care on a sustainable basis and addressing the challenges of non-communicable, communicable, and chronic diseases.

Let me recall the importance of having effective and efficient health systems. Bearing in mind national differences, appropriate health sector reforms, and the mobilization of public and private sector financing, can ensure improvements in equity and access to health care and overall sustainability. This is the main condition to improve the health of our citizens.

The growing burden of non-communicable and chronic diseases can only be tackled through efficient health systems. Awareness campaigns and the promotion of healthy lifestyles are essential.

Moreover, international cooperation is crucial to establish national strategies for prevention, screening and early diagnosis of non-communicable diseases.

Communicable diseases still represent a major threat for our societies. If most diseases have been effectively eradicated throughout the years, new and emerging ones are appearing with catastrophic consequences.

We must therefore be vigilant and exchange information on epidemiological situations on a constant basis. We need to have the capacity to fight a pandemic outbreak or to respond to any other threat in an efficient and co-ordinated manner.

Therefore, an exchange of best practice in monitoring, control, response and surveillance should continue through different action programmes in order to be sufficiently prepared to respond to health threats.

Colleagues: We are not meeting at an easy time: the world is facing a global financial crisis, a recession is looming, and volatile prices both in commodities and crops are making our citizens' lives more difficult on a daily basis.

Uncertainty seems to be the only certain thing the future bears. Our people are waiting for responses; we can give them the answers they are looking for, starting from the health sector. Ensuring equity, access, and proper health care are parts of this response.

These responses can not be given by acting in isolation. That is why we need to enhance our cooperation, we need to share ideas, experiences, set benchmarks, cooperate in training and research; we need to involve all stakeholders, from civil society to the private sector, while bearing in mind that the public sector has a key role to play.

I have confidence that, together, we can build closer health relations than ever before. Today’s Ministerial is a new layer of cooperation. It builds on nine years of work and it provides for concrete action to face future challenges. I believe that only by working more closely can we take on these common challenges and help to improve and strengthen the health sector to the benefit of our citizens.

Thank you for your attention.

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