Foreign policy and security policy

02.04.2019

Finland’s foreign and security policy aims at preserving its independence and the democratic core values of society and promoting the well-being and security of its citizens.


Finland’s foreign and security policy aims at preserving its independence and the democratic core values of society and promoting the well-being and security of its citizens.

As a Member State of the European Union and a member of the international community, Finland exercises foreign policy with a view to securing its national interests and endeavors to contribute to world peace.

Foreign and security policy is based on good bilateral and international relations, a strong role in the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the EU, effective multilateral cooperation and credible national defence.

Finland’s work in health security sector gains global recognition

Finland’s work in health security sector gains global recognition

Finland’s expertise and active contribution to health security is acknowledged by the WHO and internationally. Assessments of different countries’ capacity to handle health emergencies were launched during Finland’s chairmanship of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). The process continues and work is effective.

Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), 5th Ministerial Meeting. Group photo.

In recent decades, new and re-emerging infectious diseases have become more common. Most infectious diseases are zoonotic, that is, they spread from animals to humans. During the current decade alone, several zoonotic diseases, such as SARS, avian influenza, MERS, Ebola and, right now, COVID-19 have prompted states to make preparations. 

Health security refers to the capacity to prevent, detect and respond to both naturally occurring and accidentally or deliberately spread infectious diseases and bio-threats. Health security is included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and is an essential part of comprehensive security is society.

WHO, Finland and the Global Health Security Agenda 

Finland plays an active role in many global forums that promote health and biosafety. One of these forums is the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), which was launched on the United States’ initiative in 2014. It aims to strengthen preparedness and compliance with the WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR) particularly in developing countries. It also aims to raise health security to the political agenda.

The results of its work have been encouraging. In 2017, the WHO estimated that approximately 70 per cent of the countries that had received support had developed their preparedness to handle epidemics, but regional differences existed. Based on the results, a decision has been made to continue the programme for another five-year period in 2019–2023 (www.GHSA.org).  

So far, 67 countries and such central international organisations as the WHO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Bank, and networks representing the research community and the private sector have joined the GHSA. Finland is a member of the GHSA Steering Group and participates in two Action Packages: Biosafety & Biosecurity (Defence Forces) and Sustainable Financing (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health). 

The GHSA brings added value through its wide membership. Health security cannot be built by health professionals alone, but collaboration among various sectors is essential. The programme’s special strength lies in its approach that brings together the key operators in health security. It also corresponds to Finland’s model of comprehensive security. 

Successful external evaluation developed during Finland's chairmanship

Finland is one of the most active members of the GHSA. When Finland held the rotating chairmanship of the GHSA in 2015, a Joint External Evaluation (JEE) mechanism was developed to assess countries’ capacity to handle pandemics. Thanks to good practical experiences, the WHO has used the mechanism since 2016. 

External evaluations have proved successful: to date, 113 assessments have been conducted and 68 countries have prepared a National Action Plan for Health Security (NAPHS). Based on the evaluations, it is possible to analyse countries’ vulnerabilities and to assess what additional measures are required. They have also produced valuable data for risk assessments carried out by both countries and the WHO, currently in high demand. 
 

The Maasai, a tribe in Tanzania, brushing insects from their cattle. People brushing cows in a corral.
The Maasai, a tribe in Tanzania, brushing insects from their cattle. 

Finland's own flagship initiative was a bilateral biosafety project in Tanzania in 2014. The project is funded from Finland's development cooperation appropriations and it is implemented by the Centre for Military Medicine together with the Tanzania Veterinary Laboratory Agency (TVLA). The collaboration with Tanzania is a concrete contribution to the promotion of health security in one of Finland’s key partner countries. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted the international community to recognise the importance of health security and clearly shown that the work under the GHSA is necessary. Completed evaluations have helped to identify possible vulnerabilities and determine what measures should be prioritised in the acute phase of the crisis. Moreover, what is most important is that without the work done to ensure preparedness, many countries would have been more poorly equipped to handle the crisis than they are today.

The coronavirus pandemic has proved that more work is needed. It is important to collect the lessons learned and, based on them, intensify efforts to strengthen pandemic preparedness and crisis resilience particularly in the most vulnerable countries. Finland is actively involved in this work in the GHSA and collaborating with the WHO. 

Inquiries:

Anna Wickström-Noejgaard, Counsellor, Senior Adviser, Political Department, Ministry for Foreign Affairs