International cooperation

Global health

United Nations – health cooperation

The EU has established a strong relationship with the United Nations (UN) through its close cooperation with the UN Secretariat and the UN agencies, funds and programmes. Cooperation encompasses both global health and issues directly linked to health, including development, human rights, climate change, crisis management, and humanitarian assistance. The EU supports the World Health Organisation (WHO), the leading authority on global health in the UN system.

The European Commission plays an active part in discussions on global health within the Group of 20 (G20), the international forum for the governments and central bank governors of the world’s 20 leading industrialised and emerging economies, and the Group of 7 (G7) representing the world’s 7 largest advanced economies. Issues discussed include:

Sustainable Development Goals

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed in 2015, provide a global framework for action up to 2030.

While many of the goals are linked to health, one focuses on it specifically. Goal 3 aims to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.’ Its targets include for example:

  • Infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis
  • Non-communicable diseases and mental health
  • Substance abuse
  • Tobacco control
  • Access to vaccines and medicines
  • Health financing and health workforce issues

The European Commission and EU countries have a shared responsibility to help achieve the SDGs. The Commission’s response to the 2030 Agenda on the SDGs is set out in a Communication adopted in 2016, entitled Next steps for a sustainable European future accompanied by a Staff Working Document. This response includes elements such as mainstreaming the SDGs into EU policies and initiatives, regular reporting on progress, collaboration with key stakeholders and developing a long term vision.

The EU’s Sustainable Development website provides detailed information on how the EU is helping to implement the 2030 Agenda and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Global health & EU governance

The EU global health policy, defined in 2010, identifies the main challenges and sets out four guiding principles for a stronger EU vision, voice, and action. A comprehensive global health policy implies working in partnership with all other relevant organisations and interest groups, on areas including:

  • Trade
  • Financing
  • Development aid
  • Migration
  • Security, climate change and environment action
  • Research and innovation

The EU advocates equitable, universal and high-quality healthcare coverage and promotes fair, effective financing of research to benefit the health of all. It is working to ensure that new products are safe, effective, accessible and affordable.

Global Health Policy Forum & the Commission

To support its global health policy, the Commission holds a Global Health Policy Forum that brings together representatives of international organisations, NGOs and industry. This should help strengthen the EU's voice in global health by ensuring that its internal and external health policies are consistent as regards attaining global health goals.

The Global Health Policy Forum was set up following the 2010 Commission Communication on Global Health and the subsequent Council conclusions. The leading Commission departments involved are the Directorate-General (DG) for Health and Food Safety, the DG for International Cooperation and Development, and the DG for Research and Innovation.

Global Health Security Initiative

As a member of the Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI), the European Commission works closely with the WHO and the "G7+" states (USA, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Mexico) in an effort to create an effective and well-organised global strategy for preparedness, and response to potential health threats.

The GHSI was set up in November 2001, under the leadership of former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Although only four EU countries are official members of the GHSI, the membership of the European Commission assures that outcomes of its discussions are communicated to all EU countries through its own Health Security Committee.

The GHSI Ministerial Forum convenes on an annual basis with the attendance of Ministers, Secretaries and the Commissioner for Health from "G7+" countries and the European Commission. The World Health Organisation is also involved as a technical advisor.

GHSI Achievements

  • Strengthened smallpox preparedness and response
  • Improving international communication and risk management
  • Testing and enhancing laboratory capacity
  • Advancing global pandemic influenza preparedness and response
  • Preparation efforts against chemical and radiological threats