(Does the WHO have a role in Europe? There is more to "Europe" than you might think)
In 1988 the future role of the WHO in Europe was in doubt. It was inconceivable that it would have to provide emergency relief programmes in war zones in Europe, malaria had long been eradicated and non-communicable diseases were viewed as a matter for individual countries. Ten years later, says Martin McKee from the European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition, although the geography remains the same, the role for the WHO has completely altered.
The author notes in this week's BMJ that many people do not realise that the European region of WHO includes the entire former Soviet Union, with member states such as Tajikistan, on the Afghan border and Turkmenistan, bordering Iran. As well as continuing to support war torn countries, the WHO has a huge amount of work to do to help countries address discrepancies in life expectancy between the regions (a 15 year old Icelandic boy can expect to live another 63 years whereas his Russian counterpart is only likely to have another 44 years). The WHO can also become a source of tried and tested knowledge for countries as they reform their healthcare systems and provide a useful framework for implementing change.
Finally the historical role of WHO as guardian of international public health should not be forgotten as diseases such as diphtheria and malaria have reappeared in areas from which they had been virtually eliminated, whilst cases of tuberculosis, AIDS and syphilis are increasing dramatically in the former Soviet Union.
Professor Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health, European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition (ECOHOST), London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London
For further information on ECOHOST: http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/other/ecoh
Contact: Jill Shepherd
+44 171 383 6529
BMJ-British Medical Journal