The COVID-19 crisis has drawn the attention of policymakers and civil society organisations to public health like never before, and the pandemic has inspired profound changes within only a few months. The ambitious new EU4Health Programme released by the European Commission (which, inter alia, includes actions in priority areas such as the fight against cancer, tackling antimicrobial-resistance and improving vaccination rates) and the equally determined WHO 2020-2025 European Programme of Work, ‘United Action for better Health in Europe’ represent high-level policy responses to COVID-19. They are clearly important milestones on the path to raising the status of public health and pursuing a multi-sectoral and inclusive ‘Health in All Policies’ approach as a strategy out of the crisis and to ensure that nobody is left behind.
However, ambition also means increased responsibility for all members of the public health community: higher budgets and forceful objectives alone will not fix the many wide-ranging problems the pandemic has brought to light, including vast differences in hospital and care capacities, medicines and staff shortages, lack of comparable surveillance data, exacerbated health inequalities experienced by already marginalised groups and widespread mis- and dis-information leading to vaccine hesitancy, to name but a few of the pressing challenges Europe is currently struggling with. Everybody will need to work together in new ways to ensure that the investments will also yield satisfactory returns.
In the framework of EPHA’s 2020 Annual General Assembly and the launch of EPHA’s new Strategy, “Artists and Scientists – New Partnerships for People’s Health,” EPHA organised a Policy Dialogue to connect its members with senior European Commission and WHO officials and discuss the role of civil society in supporting the implementation of the EU4Health Programme and its key priorities, as well as the four flagship initiatives contained in the WHO-EPW: the Mental Health Coalition, Empowerment through Digital Health, the European Immunization Agenda 2030, and Healthier behaviours: incorporating behavioural and cultural insights.
The virtual event included keynote speeches by European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and WHO Europe Regional Director Hans Kluge, who spoke united in urging EPHA, its members and partners to play an active part in ensuring that the new programmes will be successful and lead to long-lasting health improvements for all people in Europe, as well as strengthened, more resilient health systems, well equipped and able to manage and ward off future health threats. This was followed by a moderated discussion led by EPHA President Freek Spinnewijn, during which Philippe Roux, Head of Unit for Health Information and Integration in all Policies at DG SANTE in Luxembourg, and Dr Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, Director of the Division of Country Health Policies and Systems (WHO Europe) shared their perspectives of what working in partnership with civil society could mean in practice.