WHO European Technical Consultation on Screening


The WHO European Technical Consultation on Screening took place in Copenhagen on February 26th and 27th. It was an opportunity to get a perspective of what is being done in terms of screening in different countries. Carlos Martins, EUROPREV Chair, participated in the meeting on behalf of WONCA Europe. Representatives from most European countries were present. It was easy to recognise the considerable heterogeneity among different countries, in some de-implementation should be a priority, while in other countries, implementation is still the priority.

Of vital importance to the scientific debate during the two days were two background papers prepared by John Brodersen and Frederik Martiny, two family doctors and researchers from the University of Copenhagen. In the first background paper, they presented the key concepts around medical screening. In the second, the focus was on the organisation of screening programmes. In both documents, new concepts like quaternary prevention and overdiagnosis prevention were present.

In practical terms, this meeting allowed an interface between policymakers, public health and family medicine professionals. It was possible to verify that ta lot of the old paradigm of medical prevention remains in the field, and early diagnosis is still sought after. There remain a number of “checkup programmes”, where healthy people are invited, sometimes pressured, to undergo medical tests, inducing unnecessary medical invasion, overdiagnosis and overtreatment. 


“Check-ups and screening programmes on people that are well and feeling well, will unnecessarily transform a lot of healthy people into patients. I wonder if in those countries where these sorts of check-ups are implemented, access to a family doctor is available? 

I believe good access to a family doctor has more impact on the health of the population than a good check-up programme. I love the ‘health for all’ motto, but for me this does not mean ‘check-ups for all’. It’s more about primary healthcare for all and a family doctor for all.”

Carlos Martins, EUROPREV Chair



On behalf of WONCA Europe, we would like to congratulate the WHO Europe staff for the organisation of this productive meeting.