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Sep 21, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

H stands for ‘health’ and ‘Hungary’

Over 600 participants, representing 53 countries gathered last week in Budapest for the 67th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee of Europe. Selecting Hungary to host the event offers important recognition of the government’s dedication to building a healthier nation.

“Our Central European region was built on the moral foundations of responsibility: for both ourselves and our neighbors,” Prime Minister Orbán said at the opening ceremony. “This means that, beyond our immediate families, we are equally responsible for the health of the members of our wider communities, our settlements, our nation, and the people of our region.” The prime minister laid out a number of challenges, both local and global, that those who “were born in the more fortunate parts of the world and who are privileged to live in its more prosperous regions” have to face.

In Europe, the main problem remains “population decline.” The Orbán Government argues that this must be resolved through policies to support families rather than through immigration.

In Hungary, the government accepted three action plans to build a healthier nation. The first is the job protection action plan that aims to “eliminate unemployment.” The second is the demographic action plan that seeks to reverse the population decline. The third is the “national health action plan.” This “involves three major battles or clashes,” according to the prime minister: the battle against smoking, the fight against unhealthy foods, and the struggle to reform meal services in the public sector, “providing children with healthier food.” Other policy initiatives include integrating “sports into the daily lives of young people” with the introduction of daily physical education classes and promoting regular health screenings, all for the purpose of improving national health.

“In 2011, when we created a new Fundamental Law amidst enormous debates, we cemented within it that everyone has the right to physical and mental health. This is stated in the current Hungarian Constitution,” said Prime Minister Orbán. This has since become a defining policy for the country.

The policies have begun to show some remarkable achievements. The portion of the population smoking on a regular basis fell from 28 percent in 2012 to 19 percent in 2013. Following that achievement, the prime minister was presented the World No Tobacco Day award by the WHO in recognition of the Hungarian government’s non-smoking initiatives. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Hungary for its health initiatives noting that the health of Hungarians has “in general been improving.”

Recently, Romanian Health Minister Florian Bodog, expressing his appreciation for the vaccination coverage rate in Hungary reaching 99 percent, emphasized the importance of protecting against epidemics and asked for best practices from Hungary.

Minister of Human Capacities Zoltán Balog, in recent talks with the WHO director general and the Health Ministers of Poland, Romania and Slovakia, highlighted the need for better access to affordable, effective and innovative medicines across the Visegrád Four countries. This effort would result in significant savings for the citizens of all four countries. The parties agreed that V4 cooperation is of the utmost importance within the field of healthcare in East Central Europe. Further discussions on the topic are to be held in November.

Minister Balog also spoke to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras about the improvement of the state of health among the Roma population and the improvement of their access to the health care system – a serious issue for both countries.

Choosing Budapest, WHO has extended important recognition to the government of Hungary for its policy innovations in the fight for a healthier world, locally and globally.