EUPHA Executive Director, Dineke Zeegers Paget explores the importance of improving public health in Europe
The European Public Health Association – EUPHA – is an umbrella organisation for national public health associations, active in 45 European countries. EUPHA’s vision is of improving health and well-being and narrowing health inequalities for all Europeans. We seek to support our members to improve health in Europe, adding value to the efforts of stakeholders in regions and states, in national and international organisations, as well as individual health professionals.
For the EUPHA strategy 2014-2020, we have three main objectives:
- To be a leading scientific and independent voice in the field of public health and health services research and policy;
- To build capacity and knowledge in the field of public health and health services research with the aim of supporting evidence-informed practice and policy decisions and;
- To prepare future generations of engaged and connected public health professionals for their leadership role in public health.
EUPHA uses a wide definition of public health professionals: ‘all professionals that monitor and diagnose the health concerns of entire communities and promote healthy practices and behaviours to ensure that populations stay healthy. This definition specifically includes health services researchers’.
This definition and the EUPHA strategy 2014-2020 expect from a public health professional that he/she can as easily talk to a politician and concerned citizen, as well as interact with researchers. And a public health professional who can present research in a timely and concise manner, preferably in a way that politicians get their questions answered even without asking them. In the EUPHA strategy, we are asking the new public health professional to stand up. So how can we create/nurture this new public health professional?
If we – the public health professionals – want to have a leading and independent voice in public health, we must adapt to the new and fast society. We can no longer do our research in the old-fashioned way, but we must use a different approach with ongoing interaction with the policymakers and flexibility to adapt the main question or add sub-questions to be answered in the research. Being a leading voice also requires being able to react quickly and concisely to new questions, being a health diplomat, advocate and knowledge broker all in one.
This new role of public health professionals requires an expansion of the training and capacity building of public health professionals. At the European Public Health conferences, initiated by EUPHA, the number of skills building workshops is increasing every year. Skills building nowadays goes beyond ‘how to write a scientific article’ and includes advocacy, public health storytelling, consumer involvement, etc. And this wider view of the role of public health professionals is already taken up in schools of public health as well.
It is important that the new public health professional becomes part of the existing public health networks, so knowledge is transferred, and continuity is ensured. This is why EUPHA is investing in the future generation of public health professionals, for instance by the creation of the EUPHAnxt network (for the next generation of public health professionals). Including students and young professionals in all levels of your organisation will not only allow you to teach the young, but also to learn from the young on innovative ways of communicating, presenting evidence and combining research with policy setting.
In March 2017, the White paper for the future of the European Union was published. In this paper, the 4th future scenario specifically mentioned public health as one of the areas where the European Union has a lesser role to play. This is frightening, as public health is part of the whole of society and a healthy population enhances a healthy economy.
It is therefore essential that the new public health professional – the one who can talk to politicians, citizens and colleagues, summarises the newest evidence in one tweet, the one who can stimulate all areas of society to take public health into account and clearly say that public health is a European matter – stands up and continues the work of the whole public-health community. And EUPHA is there to support the public health community anyway we can.
Dineke Zeegers Paget LLM PhD
European Public Health Association (EUPHA)
Tel: +31 30 2729 709