Strong health systems are an essential foundation for detecting and treating disease, as well as ensuring public health. This was the key message from Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, during his brief visit to Serbia on February 24th and 25th, who underlined that working with countries is at the heart of his vision for health.
Dr. Kluge presented his vision for health in the WHO European Region to the health workers of tomorrow at the Medical Faculty of the University of Belgrade: a joint action for better health with a special focus on countries.
COVID-19 was a ubiquitous issue throughout the visit. In an interview with the press, Dr. Kluge said Serbia is committed and ready to deal with possible cases of COVID-19, adding that it is leaving the country with confidence.
Working in partnership
During their stay in Serbia, Dr. Kluge and the Serbian Minister of Health Dr. Zlatibor Lončar a biannual cooperation agreement. This is a two-year collaboration agreement between WHO / Europe and a Member State as a guide for collaboration. This agreement highlighted the need to build stronger health systems and work on priority health issues in the country, including noncommunicable diseases and vaccination.
High-level meetings were held with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. The aim of these meetings was to discuss specific health issues and to agree on how WHO / Europe can do more to help Serbia achieve its health goals by working with the highest levels of government. One of the main issues was the importance of combating air pollution.
On the ground
During a visit to a primary care center, Savski Venac, Dr. Kluge had the opportunity to talk to health workers about their work in the community, including fighting antibiotic resistance, addressing vaccine reluctance, and uncovering potential cases of COVID-19.
The sterling work of these centers has reduced the use of antimicrobials by around 40% since 2015. After a measles outbreak in 2017-2018, Serbia responded by increasing vaccination rates to bring the number of cases under control and end the outbreak in August 2019.
In addition to high-level meetings, the visit provided the opportunity to talk to health workers and partner agencies about their work on site in Serbia. Meeting with UN and EU colleagues, including the European Union Ambassador to Serbia, provided WHO / Europe with an opportunity to learn more about how the different agencies can work together to improve health in Serbia.