The European Business Council for Health – Washington Business Group/World Health Organization venture

The European Business Council for Health – Washington Business Group/World Health Organization venture – column

Willis Goldbeck

The European Business Council for Health

The Washington Business Group on health is going international. We recently concluded an agreement with the European Regional Office of the United Nations’ World Health Organization to establish a European Business Council for Health.

For U.S. firms, viewing the political map of Europe on the morning news is about as clear as trying to read a national weather map showing storm patterns. But, from this exhilarating confusion a great opportunity emerges: the chance to forge a new, global peace agenda based upon mutually supportive efforts to raise health and environmental standards.

For WBGH and its members, being part of this process means accepting the principle that investments in domestic and foreign social advancement will be more to our competitive advantage than continuation of the more traditional methods of foreign labor and national resource exploitation. To be successful in Europe–and ultimately in the developing countries–we need new partners. We respectfully welcome the chance to work with employers and governments throughout Europe for the achievement of WHO’s health objectives.

From the European Regional Office of WHO has emerged a remarkable string of creative programs that offer valuable lessons to the United States. Healthy Cities; the new European Masters of Public Health; the European Forum for National Medical Associations; quality of care and technology assessment advances; AIDS education; tobacco control; Healthy Aging; and new environmental management and occupational health systems are some outstanding examples.

The policy accomplishments are even more significant. Under the leadership of the European Regional Director, Jo E. Asvall, M.D. WHO has succeeded in getting all 32 European member nations to adopt a single health policy, including environmental issues, that contains measurable objectives to which each nation has agreed to be held publicly accountable on an annual basis.

Health For All is the proper name for this extraordinary effort. Based upon four sweeping policy goals, and with 38 targets supported by more than 100 measurable indicators, Health For All is fast becoming not only the symbolic standard, but also the practical process by which health status and quality of environmental life in Europe are being advanced.

Health For All is remarkable not for its expectation that the widely divergent European populations will collectively see the value of investing in ahealthier continent, but rather for achieving an approach that is so basic, so understandable, and so comprehensive that it can be accepted regardless of culture, religion, economic status, or political structure.

Interestingly, the United States has already invested in the basis for its own Health For All model. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, under the long-term guidance of Michael McGinnis, M.D., has created a process to provide the United States with National Health Objectives for the Year 2000, working with the Institute of Medicine in a five-year public process that involved literally thousands of participants nationwide. These objectives, like their Health For All counterparts, represent a gauntlet thrown before the general public and political leaders: There is no acceptable political or economic excuse to stop us from working together, through every level of government and in every facet of the private sector to accomplish these objectives that hold the key to our economic survival as a nation of free and healthy people.

The WBGH, through its long-term relationship with ODPHP and its new relationship with Asvall’s team at WHO, is dedicated to helping every work site in the United States know, appreciate, and contribute to the accomplishment of our Year 2000 Objectives. In so doing, we will benefit greatly from the foresight, leadership, and plain hard work that have marked the growing success of Health For All in Europe. Every successful multi-national corporation will ultimately have to understand that their best business investments are dependent upon social investments that produce personally, economically, and politically healthy consumers in all corners of the global market.

Willis Goldbeck is president of the Washington Business Group on Health, Washington, D.C.

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