This year, the South Eastern Europe Health Network (SEEHN) celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Today, the Network is a success story of impactful regional cooperation to promote shared values and to encourage mutual efforts towards peace, health and well-being of the people of SEEHN Member States.
Yet the beginnings of its creation are a very vivid reflection of the dramatic transition that the region has overcome in the last 2 decades.
During the ’90s, the countries in South Eastern Europe faced great challenges. Plagued by conflict, political unrest, slow economic growth and historic divisions, after the fall of the communism in East Europe, the possibility of establishing dynamic networks of cooperation in the region appeared unlikely.
It was not until 2001, that under the umbrella of the Stability Pact for South East Europe, and thanks to the remarkable efforts of the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe, the Council of Europe and the Council of Europe Development Bank, that the time seemed ready for a process of cross-border cooperation between the Balkan states not only in the political arena but also in the field of public health.
It was for the first time in the process of rebuilding a region when health was seen as an engine of well-being and social and economic development and considered as a potential common ground for cooperation projects that could have a significant impact on social cohesion.
This was the long-awaited unique opportunity to start exploratory discussions for regional health cooperation that took place in Sofia and Bucharest, which would lead to the remarkable result of the creation of the first cross-border health policy alliance in the region. In fact, having coutries in the region sit together was itself an achievement.
The signing of the Dubrovnik Pledge, in September 2001, by seven of its Member States: and the creation of SEEHN has been recognized as a major political success for peace and cross-border cooperation. Countries that were once being pulled apart by conflict were coming together to benefit from the regional interconnection.
The South-Eastearn Europe Health Network was established thanks to the hard work and dedication of excellent individuals, that should be recognized for their contribution and awareness that the Network is a vehicle for peace, health development and wealth.
But personal ties alone were not enough to stitch these countries together in a way that would have widespread benefit. Further Agreements needed to be concluded and perfected to ensure the smooth functioning of the Network that would allow it to implement its commitments. New areas of cooperation needed to be added in response to the societal challenges and new memberships needed to be perfected adding new milestones to the history and to define the identity of a Network that allowed it to evolve towards an instrument of joint progress in the region that it is today.
In addition to this, its enduring and dynamic partnership network with international organizations, European countries, nongovernmental organizations, and other institutions have provided strong political, technical and financial support and cooperation. This have helped the Network to strengthen regional health policies, implement health projects in key public health areas of regional concern and establish Regional Health Development Centers.
For the past two decades, SEEHN has paved the way for health, peace, social inclusion, economic development, wealth, well-being and sustainable development. This is the story of a dream, a true story of a fairy tale that deserves to be told, so that future generations can know and keep alive this legacy.
This year, two decades after its founding, in a time of great uncertainty, we can still celebrate the past as we look to the future. But we must think hard about what we want the next 20 years to bring.
Today, the nine Member States of the Network, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Israel, Montenegro, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia stand united, working together in a region abundant with human and natural resources, cultural treasures and growing markets, ready to face the challenges of the present and those that are to come.
Twenty years from now, we hope the SEEHN countries will find new horizons to upgrade the cooperation in the health field inspiring the region to blossom into an area of prosperity and opportunity beyond what we can envision.