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FILE – This Monday, April 8, 2019 file photo shows the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. On Wednesday, May 22, 2019, U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark and Hal Rogers are calling on the WHO to withdraw pain care guidelines that include what they say are false claims about the safety of prescription opioids. The members of Congress say the United Nations health agency’s guidance was influenced by people with financial connections to Mundipharma , the international sister company of Purdue Pharma, the company that makes the powerful opioid painkiller OxyContin. (AP Photo/Jamey Keaten, File)

The WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge recently visited a number of countries in the European Region, as COVID-19 vaccines continue to be rolled out, offering hope in the fight against the pandemic.

Visiting Serbia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, Dr Kluge had the opportunity to speak with key decision-makers as well as health-care workers and patients.

Serbia

After meeting Dr Zlatibor Lončar, Minister of Health of Serbia, Dr Kluge visited a vaccination centre at Belgrade Fair. He congratulated the country on its success in rolling out vaccines, using digital health – in the form of web pages to register for vaccination. Those signing up receive an SMS or email when it is their turn to be vaccinated, helping smooth the process.

The following day, Dr Kluge attended the opening of cool rooms at the Torlak Institute, alongside Dr Lončar. WHO provided financial support for the cool rooms, which secure the cold chain – a temperature controlled supply chain – for COVID-19 vaccines.

During the country visit, Dr Kluge had the opportunity to speak with President Aleksandar Vučić about COVID-19, most notably vaccination roll-outs and solidarity with other countries, as well as the ongoing European Programme of Work 2020–2025 (EPW), with particular focus on the Roadmap for Health in the Western Balkans 2021–2025.

Hungary

In Hungary, Dr Kluge had the opportunity to speak with high-level representatives, including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, on a number of issues affecting health in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown the importance of investing in health to strengthen health systems – an issue discussed between the Regional Director and Prime Minister.

In addition, Dr Kluge witnessed first-hand the tireless efforts made by staff at the National Korányi Institute for Tuberculosis and Pulmonology in Budapest. The Institute presented the outcomes of several projects implemented in close collaboration with WHO, which aim to find new modalities for models of care supported by effective payment mechanisms and clinical governance.

The Institute was one of the first in the country to be redesigned as a COVID-19 hospital, completing its conversion in record time, while also maintaining some non-COVID-19 health services. Speaking to staff, Dr Kluge congratulated them on their work tackling the pandemic, while also working to manage patients with noncommunicable diseases and tuberculosis.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr Kluge spoke with high-level representatives, seeking to build on support for the EPW, linked to the Roadmap for Health in the Western Balkans 2021–2025. The Roadmap places health at the centre of the country’s economic growth agenda – linking health and the economy, an issue that has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Kluge met with the Chairman and the Members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina to discuss the EPW – marking the first time a WHO Regional Director for Europe has met with the Presidency in person.

In addition, Dr Kluge signed a biennial collaborative agreement with Minister of Civil Affairs Ankica Gudeljević – focusing on building emergency-resilient, financially stable and robust health systems to leave no one behind in health.

Montenegro

Travelling to Montenegro, Dr Kluge spoke with parliamentarians about pan-European and country-specific health challenges, including tobacco control and universal health coverage. The Regional Director also highlighted the importance of health workers during an address to the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Labour and Social Welfare. In addition, Dr Kluge spoke with the Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić, to discuss the EPW and its importance for health in the Region.

Montenegro has also been working on strengthening governance, surveillance, diagnostics and clinical management – part of a digital innovation in health in the country. This forms an important part of the EPW, a point highlighted in discussions with Health Minister Jelena Borovinić Bojović.

The visit also offered an opportunity to discuss digital health and immunization and their role in responding to the pandemic with health workers at a primary health care centre in the capital Podgorica. These centres have helped bring health care and the roll-out of vaccines closer to communities.

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