WHO and ECHO discuss the way forward in strengthening their partnership and innovative ways of cooperation

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros greets EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Director-General Maciej Popowski. ©WHO/Chris Black

Top representatives of WHO and its Health Emergency Programme (WHE) and the European Commission’s Directorate General for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) met today in Geneva for their annual high-level dialogue.

The EU team was led by Mr Michael Köhler, Deputy Director-General of DG ECHO, who was accompanied by Ms Susanne Mallaun, Head of Unit, Strategic Partnerships with Humanitarian Organizations, and Ms Dana Le Roy, WHO desk officer at ECHO, with representatives of the EU Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva.

Exchange on health emergency preparedness and response topped the agenda, as delegates discussed shared global health priorities and partnership in health emergencies and humanitarian response. The partners also brainstormed about strategic developments related to the WHO fourteenth General Programme of Work (GPW14), which is presently under development, and also discussed the negotiations underway for a Pandemic Accord, the European Humanitarian response capacity, progress with key partnership projects, including on mental health and nutrition, joint health emergency and epidemic response in humanitarian settings.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought both organizations closer together, at strategic, technical and operational levels, the high-level dialogue participants agree that the ECHO-WHO partnership has grown even stronger post-pandemic, with a shared strategic vision for a better, safer, healthier world.

This partnership with ECHO is critical to WHO’s health emergency operations. In 2023, WHO is responding to an unprecedented number of intersecting health emergencies: climate change-related disasters; disasters such as earthquakes; the health impact of conflicts in Ukraine, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and in other regions. The impacts of all these health emergencies has overlapped with the health system disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, ECHO and WHO are responding to epidemic outbreaks and health emergencies around the world, delivering life-saving health care to the most vulnerable. Mr Michael Köhler, Deputy Director-General of DG ECHO, said that “demands on WHO have increased exponentially over the past years, showing the trust that partners have placed in WHO.”

Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said: “The global context is complex with a deteriorating environment, increasing health emergencies risk, and escalating health needs straining health systems and health workforce across all countries. WHO is keen to expand partnership with ECHO beyond short term humanitarian response into longer term, strategic joint priorities.”

The European Union and WHO collaborate to safeguard political support by keeping global health on the world post-pandemic agenda. The vision for WHO is to rally stakeholders around the new strategy for the work, encapsulated in the Global Programme of Work, and to turn the tide on SDG 3: good health and well-being.

The dialogue took place in the context of shared political commitment at the highest levels: the WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed to Geneva Mr Maciej Popowski, ECHO’s Director-General. This was their first one-to-one meeting, at which they spoke at length about their shared commitment to serve the most vulnerable in emergencies and humanitarian crises, with Dr Tedros expressing appreciation of their close partnership and joint efforts to alleviate the suffering across on-going crises in Afghanistan, Sudan, Ukraine and most recently in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

In 2022, ECHO provided support to COVID-19 rapid response teams, isolation centres, laboratories and primary health care centres and also provided ambulances to health authorities in Khartoum, Sudan, to help with transporting patients to health facilities within localities. ©Lindsay Mackenzie

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