TBILISI, Georgia, September 18 /PRNewswire/ -- The need to strengthen health systems so that they can quickly and flexibly respond to the rising number of challenges was on the agenda of WHO's European governing body, the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, that took place in Tbilisi, Georgia on 15-18 September.

Two of the most complex and persistent issues in public health have been addressed. Over 250 representatives of the countries in the WHO European Region were seeking ways to improve the governance of health systems, which means better fairness and greater efficiency, and to promote healthy behaviour.

Practice shows that probably no task in public health is harder than changing behaviour such as smoking, overeating, poor blood pressure control and physical inactivity. Efforts to improve the governance and performance of health systems also have a long history, and similarly patchy success. In her address to the Committee, Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said: "We are like Sisyphus, the mythical king from ancient Greece, who is condemned to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again. ... I applaud your courage in tackling these problems."

The Regional Committee gave priority to making health services accessible to all, particularly to those who cannot afford to pay for health care.

It has been stressed that the burden of long-term care of chronic diseases, the huge costs of drug-resistant TB and the rise of palliative-care costs not only put significant pressure on health systems but can also drive households below the poverty line. "People should not become poor because of ill health," asserted Dr Chan.

Addressing the Regional Committee, Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia, re-emphasized that fairness in access to health care and efficiency services is vital. A health system should not be seen as a burden to government, but as a real producer of economic gain.

One of the Regional Committee's goals is to increase health systems' capacities to respond to health emergencies. "When a crisis happens, the malfunctioning of a health system puts the health of the world in danger," said Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Further information on resolutions adopted by the Committee on http://www.euro.who.int/rc.

Contact Liuba Negru: LNE@euro.who.int, +45-3917-1344