A rich exchange of good practices and ideas for confronting health challenges took place at the Sixth High-level Meeting of Small Countries, hosted in San Marino on 31 March–1 April 2019. Under the theme “Equity and sustainable development – keeping people at the centre”, the 8 original members of the Small Countries Initiative (Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro and San Marino) once again convened for robust dialogue on key health issues. They were joined for the first time by Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia.
The event opened on a high note with the presence of WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.Speaking to delegates at the opening session, he underlined the importance of bringing together similar countries to identify common problems and find common solutions.
“Small countries can set and implement policy quickly and effectively, and they can be agile and innovative in a way that is much more difficult for larger countries,” he said. “In this way, they can be health leaders, pioneering ideas that can then be adopted in larger countries.”
The pioneering role of small countries was on display throughout the meeting. Delegates presented numerous examples of the innovative ways in which their countries are implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing complex health issues, such as building a sufficient and fit-for-purpose 21st-century health workforce.
Taking stock of progress, looking ahead to future collaboration
Many participants recognized San Marino’s role as host as well as its vital contribution to establishing the Small Countries Initiative in 2014. Speaking at the opening session, Dr Franco Santi, Minister of Health and Social Security, National Insurance, Family and Economic Planning for San Marino, said that the Initiative has naturally evolved from having the Health 2020 policy framework as its main point of reference to focusing on achieving the SDGs.
Dr Santi commended the countries of the Initiative for being “flexible, full of resilience and prompt in planning their policies and their decision-making, in line with the global values that can pave the way for a better, more equal, more sustainable tomorrow”.
The programme covering 2.5 days included sessions devoted to the economic and social impact of health systems; accelerating progress towards health equity, environmental sustainability and urban health; making the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development a reality; and addressing health workforce challenges.
During the session on health equity, Acting WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Piroska Ӧstlin noted, “Our success in combating health inequalities depends very much on our ability to mobilize collaboration with other policy sectors and secure high-level political support. Accelerating progress towards healthy, prosperous lives for all is possible with systematic action, by scaling up and adapting approaches that work and generating new solutions and alliances that break down the barriers.”