Addressing an international forum on infectious disease control and health diplomacy hosted by the Government of Turkmenistan on 8 October 2021, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge commented, “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown unequivocally the fundamental importance of health for worldwide prosperity and security. There is a demonstrable need to rethink global governance structures, the relationship between the private and public sectors, and the values upon which our nations and societies operate.”
The Regional Director was one of several international speakers invited to give their insights on the lessons learned by countries and the international community in light of the current global health emergency.
Looking from a national perspective, he highlighted the importance of effective primary health-care systems backed by digital infrastructure to allow routine and COVID-19-specific services to continue in parallel, and the need to invest in health-care infrastructure and the health workforce.
Dr Kluge also underlined that transparent communications are vital at all levels, from the community up. These are based on evidence and good data, and include reporting according to the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) in order to build and maintain trust, enable regional and global health security, and facilitate accurate public health and clinical management protocols.
Dr Kluge called on Member States to reinforce political will and commitment to the IHR, to take a One Health approach to policy-making, and to find ways for public and private sectors to work together more effectively in research and innovation for vaccines, medicines and health technologies.
He stressed the importance of WHO’s regional structure, which gives it political and operational proximity to Member States, decision-makers and people, and which can facilitate initiatives such as subregional roadmaps for specific intercountry actions in target areas.
Stronger collaboration with WHO
The visit provided an opportunity for the Regional Director to meet with high-level officials in Turkmenistan, including His Excellency Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, President of Turkmenistan; Mr Rashid Meredov, Vice-Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs; Dr Sapardurdy Toylyyev, Vice-Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers for Science, Education, Health and Sport; Mr Serdar Berdymuhammedov, Vice-Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers for Economic, Banking and International Financial Organizations; and Dr Nurmuhammet Amannepesov, Minister of Health and Medical Industry, among others.
Dr Kluge also introduced the new WHO Representative to Turkmenistan, Dr Egor Zaitsev, to national officials.
Discussions explored opportunities to strengthen collaboration between WHO and Turkmenistan in several areas, including:
- building on and learning from Turkmenistan’s progress in the area of noncommunicable diseases and its goal to be tobacco-free;
- strengthening health diplomacy and developing a training course for central Asian countries;
- expanding regional capacity in bacteriology and virology based on One Health principles;
- focusing more attention on pandemic preparedness and response under the IHR;
- working jointly on health system strengthening, with a focus on digitalization and innovation;
- exploring further regional health initiatives, such as the development of a health roadmap for central Asian countries; and
- supporting humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
Follow-up mission to Turkmenistan
Agreement was reached on a multidisciplinary mission by WHO/Europe to Turkmenistan in the coming weeks to operationalize commitments related to the IHR and other aspects of emergency preparedness and response activities. This will bring together WHO experts in epidemiology and surveillance, emergency preparedness and response, data collection, environment and health, and noncommunicable diseases to meet with national counterparts, assess needs and develop plans for further targeted support.