On a recent visit to the Russian Federation, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge stressed the importance of continued solidarity in the fight against COVID-19 during meetings with high-level representatives.
The visit was an opportunity to reflect on the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the use of digital health technologies and the deployment of personnel as part of WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN).
Speaking during the visit, Dr Kluge said: “As the world learns to live with the new reality brought by COVID-19, it is a unique time to be undertaking my first official mission to Moscow as Regional Director of WHO/Europe. The Russian Federation is a country I know well after living and working here, and it is always productive to return and exchange ideas.”
The visit had 3 main objectives that focused on expanding collaboration on the global, regional and national levels:
- harnessing the leadership shown by the Russian Federation in addressing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including through the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of NCDs;
- acknowledging the Russian Federation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including its support to WHO’s response in countries and its role in the global effort to develop potential vaccines for COVID-19; and
- supporting the implementation of the Russian President’s national strategy, which focuses on increasing life expectancy with commitments to investing in health and expanding country-level work on digital health, primary health care, and tuberculosis (TB) and HIV.
Solidarity in response to COVID-19 and NCDs
In discussions with Minister of Health Dr Mikhail Murashko and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, COVID-19 was on the agenda. Dr Kluge emphasized the importance of multilateralism and global cooperation, commending the Russian Federation for its COVID-19 vaccine research and development efforts, and for sharing information with WHO as part of the global effort to find safe and effective vaccines.
Dr Kluge highlighted that there is much to learn from the Russian Federation’s efforts, including its success in influenza vaccination campaigns across the country as we brace for the potential combined impact of influenza and COVID-19 cases.
Dr Kluge and Dr Murashko also spoke about the Russian Federation’s continued role in addressing NCDs both regionally and nationally. They discussed how artificial intelligence and big data can be harnessed to tackle NCDs, and touched upon the establishment of a regional technical advisory council for NCDs to address setbacks caused by the pandemic, to build back better and to accelerate innovations towards reducing premature mortality from NCDs. They noted the continued work of the NCD Office in the country, which acts as a centre of excellence, strengthening capacity in all countries of the WHO European Region to prevent and control NCDs.
The meeting with Prime Minister Mishustin offered another opportunity to discuss the ongoing work of WHO and the Russian Federation in areas including NCDs and TB.
The importance of global solidarity was again emphasized during a meeting with Foreign Minister Mr Sergey Lavrov. Mr Lavrov recognized the importance of cooperation between WHO/Europe and the Russian Federation, and the role WHO/Europe has played in coordinating the response to COVID-19.
During a meeting with Dr Anna Popova, Head of the Russian Federation’s Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), Dr Kluge recognized the personnel that the country has devoted to the COVID-19 response. Part of GOARN, Rospotrebnadzor took part in a mission to Tajikistan to support COVID-19 laboratory capacity.
Focusing on digital health
Dr Kluge’s visit also included a meeting with Mayor of Moscow Mr Sergey Sobyanin. Together they considered collaboration between WHO/Europe and Moscow on tackling air pollution, as well as innovative technologies for dementia and mental health services. Mr Sobyanin pointed out the use of digital health technologies in primary health care for the response to COVID-19.
Dr Kluge later met with health-care workers at the Telemedicine Centre of Moscow who help to manage patients with suspected COVID-19 at the primary care level, combining home visits and the use of Moscow’s integrated health information system. Since the pandemic began, 187 000 patients with COVID-19 have been monitored and had contact with their general practitioners via online consultations. This has helped to manage the pandemic and reduce the burden on hospitals.
Working with partners
The visit also offered opportunities for meetings with partners who work with WHO in the Russian Federation. During a meeting with the Eurasian Economic Commission, Dr Kluge and WHO colleagues spoke about future collaboration to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3 – ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages – with a focus on antimicrobial resistance, pharmaceuticals, food safety and the health issues associated with trans fats.
Collaboration with United Nations agencies is an important part of WHO’s work in countries. During a briefing with several of these agencies and other non-state actors, Dr Kluge and representatives spoke about areas of cooperation. The Regional Director thanked the representatives for their organizations’ support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A discussion with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) covered the importance of ensuring universal health coverage for vulnerable populations, including migrants. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) highlighted joint work in the Russian Federation and the wider European Region through a tripartite agreement on addressing antimicrobial resistance and rabies.
The World Bank underlined the importance of strengthening universal health coverage and primary health care in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed their commitment to universal health coverage.
The visit ended with a briefing of European Union (EU) ambassadors, organized by the EU delegation, on key outcomes from the visit. This included an update on the visit’s 3 main objectives: joint work to fight NCDs; continued cooperation during the COVID-19 pandemic; and implementation of the Russian President’s national strategy.
WHO maintains 2 separate offices in the Russian Federation: the WHO Country Office, which works closely with the country’s health authorities on health matters, and the NCD Office, a geographically dispersed office which specializes in helping all countries across the WHO European Region tackle NCDs.