During a country visit to Georgia from December 18-23, 2020, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, with high-level representatives on health priority areas. The visit was also an opportunity to speak to health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The visit was hosted by the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia and included discussions on strengthening WHO’s presence in the country through the use of strategic partnerships with the European Union and other partners. COVID-19 was on the agenda as was its impact on health systems, which meant the need for a stronger focus on achieving universal health coverage by 2030.

Dr. Commenting on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on health systems, Kluge said, “Georgia has launched a strong response to COVID-19, but the pandemic has highlighted the need to accelerate progress to ensure no one is left behind. Robust health systems, primary health care (PHC) and accessible public health services are the best way to ensure universal health coverage across the country. These strategies will strengthen resilience to future health emergencies and help ensure that people in need receive critical services. “

Health on the agenda at high-level meetings

The government’s commitment to universal health coverage was reaffirmed at the highest level in meetings with the President, Prime Minister, Ministry of Health and the Chair of Parliament. The Regional Director recognized the progress and emphasized the need to take further steps to improve financial protection by reducing health care expenses and improving access to quality and affordable medicines.

The Regional Director also described the start of the Oslo Medicines Initiative as a milestone on the road to making medicines available and affordable by defining a new vision for public-private cooperation to improve access that is characterized by solidarity, transparency and sustainability effective, novel and high-priced medicines in the WHO European Region. Other important items on the agenda were working together to fight cancer, high blood pressure and mental health. Dr. Kluge also congratulated Georgia on its leadership in efforts to eradicate hepatitis C and on advances in tobacco control.

WHO stands ready to provide active support to Georgia in all priority areas, with the main objective of minimizing disruption to the sector and ensuring access of the population to basic medical and public health services and financial protection. This includes the implementation of a new PHC service package and new Medicines Act for Georgia; Improving noncommunicable disease control (NCDs) and risk factors, main drivers of mortality in Georgia (93% of mortality is due to NCDs).

Meeting with health workers

During a visit to a rural PHC center, Dr. Kluge again expressed his appreciation for the health care workers, praised the heroic work of the Georgian health care workers and called the general practitioners “the friends of the people”. The Regional Director discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the local population, particularly the need to address the heightened levels of fear caused by the pandemic.

Local doctors emphasized the need for additional training on how to deal with the growing mental health needs of their populations and the importance of clear and consistent communication in reducing anxiety and fear.

COVID-19 response

The Regional Director visited several on-site COVID-19 response facilities, including the National Disease Control and Public Health Centers, 112 hotline headquarters, an “online clinic,” a COVID hotel and a COVID hospital. Dr. Kluge recognized Georgia’s innovative approaches to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the novel uses of COVID hotels and online clinics to treat mild COVID-19 cases after discharge. He also stressed the need for a balanced approach and consideration of the needs of health workers.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, recent support from WHO has been on building clinical management and laboratory diagnostics capacity, sourcing laboratory equipment, test kits, personal protective equipment, developing guidelines and training PHC providers on COVID – Management and mental health addressed issues related to COVID. Dr. Kluge expressed the WHO’s commitment to technical support for vaccine delivery and the development of the national strategy for the use of vaccines, emphasizing the importance of the establishment of safety monitoring systems as well as the regulatory and liability aspects.

European work program

The country visit was also an opportunity to discuss the European Work Program 2020-2025 – United Action for Better Health in Europe (EPW), which sets out a vision of how the WHO Regional Office for Europe can help health authorities improve Member States of health and wellbeing.

Coupled with the EPW, digital health during the pandemic has created both new opportunities to reach distant citizens and reduced the need to travel to appointments, but also inequality in internet access and digital tools and gaps in the guidelines revealed. Health information systems, training and legislation. The government expressed its commitment to accelerating the development of digital health in the country by investing in infrastructure and reforming legislation and service delivery.

The EPW reflects WHO / Europe’s determination to leave no one behind and to strengthen governance of health authorities in the region.