Health 2020 is the World Health Organisation’s health policy framework for the European region. It was adopted by the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region in September 2012 after an intensive two-year consultation process. The Health 2020 policy framework was established to support governments and societies in improving the health and well-being of populations, to strengthen public health, to reduce health inequalities and to achieve health systems that are sustainable, equitable, universal and of high quality.

The reasoning behind Health 2020

Health 2020 was developed to address contemporary developments in Europe that affect the health status of Europe’s citizens and that require new ways of thinking and acting. These contemporary developments include major social, economic, environmental and demographic shifts. Furthermore, there have been significant improvements in population health in the WHO European Region in recent decades, but unfortunately these improvements have not benefited everyone equally. Substantial inequalities in health remain and are exacerbating in many places.

Health 2020 acknowledges the importance of social cohesion, respect for diversity, security, work-life balance, good health and qualitative education. In times of economic crisis, Health 2020 also emphasises the importance of a common framework which helps Member States to learn from each other and to exchange good practices.

Key components of Health 2020

The Health 2020 policy framework is based on the following components/pillars:

  • Values: Health 2020 is anchored in the WHO Constitution, which stipulates that the highest achievable standard of health is a basic human right. Health is defined by the WHO as the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, which is marked not only by the absence of disease or infirmity (WHO, 2014). Within this definition, health and well-being are intertwined and founded on an individual’s subjective perspective on his or her physical, psychological and social state of being.
  • Health development: Health is a key resource for people to realise their potential, to achieve important life goals and to contribute to society. Consequently, poor health has detrimental effects on both an individual and societal level.
  • Problem solving: Health 2020 assists policy makers in setting priorities and becoming more efficient in addressing pressing social, demographic, economic and epidemiological issues. Furthermore, Health 2020 fosters collaborations and new approaches within the health sector.
  • Engagement: Health is the collective responsibility of both society and the government; combined efforts of all relevant stakeholders are needed to achieve better and more equitable health and well-being.
  • Equity focus: The Health 2020 policy frameworks introduces novel ways for identifying and addressing important health gaps. Successful health systems are characterised by affordable care, social safety nets, strong public services and sustainable public finances.
  • Evidence base: Health 2020 builds extensively on evidence obtained from traditional health-for-all policies and emerging health policy areas.
  • Strategic thinking: Real improvements in health can be achieved when governments actively pursue two specific strategic objectives, as elaborated upon in the following section.


Strategic objectives of Health 2020

The philosophy behind the Health 2020 policy framework is that structural advances in health can be effectuated when governments actively aim to fulfil two linked strategic objectives.

Strategic objective 1: Improving health for all and reducing health inequalities

  • Whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach: Health 2020 sees health as a responsibility for the whole of society and the whole of government, which should be reflected in novel forms of health governance. Traditional mechanisms, processes, relationships and institutional arrangements across all sectors have to be evaluated and possibly readjusted for this purpose.
  • Tackling inequities and the social determinants of health: Health inequalities stem from the unjust distribution of power, influence, goods and services, childhood experiences, living and working conditions, and access to good quality healthcare, schools and education. Health 2020 recommends that governments develop universal policies to improve the health of everyone, as well as policies that address the social gradient in health directly and policies that focus specifically on disadvantaged groups. 


Strategic objective 2: Improving leadership and participatory governance for health

  • Innovation, leadership and capacity for health and development: Leadership capacities and innovation are pivotal in Health 2020. These can come from diverse stakeholders as they take on new responsibility and accountability for population health. Health 2020 supports new collaborative leadership structures in deploying innovative approaches for dealing with behavioural health determinants, advocacy, environmental factors, healthcare service delivery and the networking needed to mobilise partners and political and cultural support for equitable, sustainable and accountable approaches to health development.
  • Citizens’ empowerment: Citizens, communities, public stakeholders and private stakeholders are all essential to obtain insights into what affects health at the local level, to build support for action and to contribute to community development. Empowered citizens and patients have the ability to substantially ameliorate health outcomes and health system performance, to advocate for policies which are beneficial to population health and to reduce the usage of health services and the associated costs. In turn, this will result in healthier citizens with an increased sense of ownership, inclusion and responsibility.


Priority areas of Health 2020

Health 2020 puts forward four priority areas for policy action. These priorities are aligned with the global health agenda of the WHO and further tailored to meet the special needs and experiences of the European Region.

The four priority areas of Health 2020 are the following:

  1. Invest in health through a life-course approach and empower citizens
  2. Tackle Europe’s major disease burdens of non-communicable and communicable diseases
  3. Strengthen people-centred health systems and public health capacity, including preparedness and response capacity for dealing with emergencies
  4. Create supportive environments and resilient communities


Short video about the Health 2020 policy framework


More information and references

  • WHO – About Health 2020 (webpage)
  • World Health Organization (2014). Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.