Public health must be strengthened for a healthy post-COVID world

Guest article by John Middleton, President and Robert Otok, Director, The Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region

The current COVID-19 pandemic crisis has brought to bear the urgency of a strong and concerted effort to cultivate training, research and capacity in public health in order to develop and maintain a prepared cadre of public health experts and professionals. It makes plain as well the need to emphasize public health approaches and knowledge in other professions, bolstering multi-professional teams and cross-discipline collaboration. ASPHER has therefore issued a Statement on the COVID-19 outbreak emergency calling for “an allocation of resources toward specific emergency training on COVID-19 and for a renewed long-term investment in public health education and training at all levels”.

However, COVID-19 is not the first challenge faced by public health and it will not be the last. ASPHER’s work to strengthen the public health workforce is an ongoing, high priority effort. In 2017, ASPHER, along with other key European public health organisations, developed and signed the Joint Statement on Public Health Workforce Development and Professionalisation calling for a collaborative and consensus-building action on the continuing development and professionalisation of the public health workforce in Europe. Further work resulted in relevant tools and guiding documents such as the WHO-ASPHER Competency Framework for the Public Health Workforce in the European Region, complementing ASPHER’s European List of Core Competences for the Public Health Professional, which has been regularly updated by the Association since 2006.

The COVID-19 crisis has made the critical role of frontline health professionals obvious to and appreciated by all. However, reopening our societies and returning to some degree of normality while remaining vigilant for potential new waves of outbreaks will require the united efforts of the entirety of the multi-professional workforce delivering WHO’s Essential Public Health Operations (EPHOs). As a result, efforts to build public health workforce capacity require support to Schools of Public Health to strengthen a multi-sectoral approach.

Too often and in too many places, resources for Public Health have become eroded. We must give voice to all that we do that works to better the health of the population and use this time and the future to come to make the efforts of public visible to governments, decision-makers and the public. One significant way ASPHER is contributing to this is through our This Is Public Health (TIPH) Europe campaign encouraging all Member Schools to raise awareness by branding their community activities with the TIPH logo.

Many recent initiatives by ASPHER Members during the COVID-19 crisis demonstrate the wide range of activities undertaken by Schools of Public Health and public health professionals to work to ensure the health of the population. A few highlights have come to us through the ASPHER COVID-19 Taskforce, including:

  • The School of Public Health of Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, Milan, Italy: Residents’ activities included the production, evaluation, interpretation and implementation of guidelines in the community and hospital setting; supervision of the reallocation and creation of beds in intensive care and COVID-19 units; research activities on the epidemiology of COVID-19 in Italy and Europe; and production of an educational cartoon for children.
  • EHESP French School of Public Health, Rennes, France: EHESP academics are committed to research projects and crisis management units at national and local levels. EHESP developed short videos for health professionals for the French Ministry of Health. The School trains healthcare system managers, with many students who are civil servants involved in the response at hospitals, nursing homes, etc.
  • The Pettenkofer School of Public Health, Munich, Germany: As a WHO Collaborating Centre for Evidence-Based Public Health, PSPH is part of the WHO-led Evidence Collaborative for COVID-19 to complete systematic reviews on specific priority questions. Nationally, it is providing policy advice through scientific statements/reports. It is also involved with COVID-19 modelling and conducts small-scale research projects related to the pandemic.
  • University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland: UCD is part of a network of contact tracing call centres established across Ireland. Call teams contact persons confirmed or presumed to have or been in contact with COVID-19. They provide information about contact tracing, advice and guidance, and find out who they have been in contact with for follow up.
  • London School of Health and Tropical Medicine, London, UK: LSHTM is involved with the Health System Response Monitor (HSRM) to collect and organize up-to-date information on how countries are responding to the crisis. Early on, the school organized an online course to understand the emergence of COVID-19. And School Director, Peter Piot has been answering questions on COVID-19 for TEDMED.

Many thanks to our Schools of Public Health and everyone who has been involved in the fight against COVID-19. We must continue to keep strong.

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