Note to Correspondents

Note No. 251

5 September 2003



Next week, the WHO Regional Committee for Europe meets in the capital of Austria to consider policy issues that affect the health and lives of European populations.

Over 300 representatives of the 52 Member States in the WHO European Region -- health ministers and other high-ranking health decision-makers -- will attend this fifty-third session of the WHO regional governing body, which starts on Monday, 8 September and ends on Thursday, 11 September. The Federal President of the Republic of Austria, Dr Thomas Klestil will give an address at the opening ceremony. Dr LEE Jong-Wook, the new WHO Director-General, will participate in his first WHO Regional Committee for Europe since taking office in July of this year.

Priorities for WHO’s cooperation with countries in the Region, the health of children and young people, and mental health disorders will be high on the Regional Committee’s agenda. In addition, the representatives will review such recent successes as the intensive mobilization of the international community against the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the adoption and signing process of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and campaigns against HIV/AIDS.

The Regional Committee will also define benchmarks for performance in the coming year. “We have to take account of the diversity of the countries in our large Region while defining the forms of assistance we provide them;” says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe, “the Regional Committee’s sessions are a good opportunity to check if we are on the right track.”


Further, partnership and international team building are key issues to be raised at the session. Representatives of agencies and nongovernmental organizations -- such as the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and the World Federation of Mental Health -- will attend to discuss how to work together and with WHO to meet the Millennium Development Goals.


Improving the health of children and adolescents – a call for action


The health of children and adolescents in the European Region leaves much scope for improvement.

  • Some 60% of children say they face violent or aggressive behaviour at home, and 10–20% have one or more mental or behavioural problems. 
  • People aged under 30 years account for 84% of new cases of HIV/AIDS in the eastern half of the Region, compared with 31% in the western half.

      Improving health requires action from many sectors, although health authorities have a pivotal role in stimulating and coordinating it. In collaboration with WHO and other partners, Member States in the European Region will consider steps to improve children’s and adolescents’ health.

       Mental disorders and disabilities

  New knowledge and experience confirm that mental health problems are quite common. Each year, more than 30 million people in the WHO European Region suffer from major depression, and one in four families has at least one member with a mental disorder at any point in time. The burden of mental illnesses is growing; from 12% of the total burden of disease at present, it is projected to reach 15% in 2020.

Even though the consequences of mental ill health can easily account for one third to one half of all health care costs, many countries in the European Region spend less than 3% of their health budgets on mental health care. As a result, the treatment gap is considerable: for example, about 47% of people suffering from major depression in the Region remain untreated.

The Regional Committee will discuss measures to overcome these challenges, and outline plans for the WHO European ministerial conference on mental health to be held in Finland in 2005.


Arrangements for the mass media


Journalists are invited to attend the opening plenary session and the opening statements at 10.00 on Monday, 8 September. A press conference will follow at 12.30. Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe, Mrs Maria Rauch-Kallat, Federal Minister of Health and Women and Professor Dr. Reinhart Waneck, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Health and Women will give a briefing on strategic priorities for public health in the European Region, with special emphasis on agenda topics of the Regional Committee. Both the plenary session and the press conference will be held at Hofburg Congress Centre, Heldenplatz (entrance Josefsplatz), Vienna, Austria.

Please see the web site of the WHO Regional Office for Europe for more on the agenda ( of the fifty-third session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe.





For more information contact:


Ms Liuba Negru

Press and Media Relations

WHO Regional Office for Europe
Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark

Tel.: +45 39 17 13 44

Fax: +45 39 17 18 80