During the EuroHealthNet Executive Board meeting in Brussels, Clive Needle found out from members why they like to be part of it….
By Clive Needle
Newly appointed as a professor in her home country Slovenia, and a national expert for European Commission and WHO bodies, Mojca Gabrielcic does not lack things to do. But amid checking her busy email inbox before the meeting begins, she enthuses about the EuroHealthNet Executive Board (EB):
‘’I can learn so much and have such useful influence by taking part, it is so worth investing my energy’’ she smiles. ’’It is good for my national institute and my country. We gain so much knowledge for sharing and have found lots of opportunities through capacity building and innovative projects. Of course, the extra funding we can achieve is also important for sustainable development and for high quality work nationally and across Europe.’’
When I asked our elected members why they find it matters to be part of the Partnership as a whole and particularly to be on our Board, I frequently received such responses. From our newest joiners to those who have contributed for decades, appreciation featured strongly of the extra added value gained back in their daily work nationally.
The newest EB member, Kathleen McGreevy, found her first meeting eye-opening; ‘’I was struck by the strong principles and values shown by everyone here, ‘’ she enthused. ‘’I have a background in research, innovation and entrepreneurship, but everything at EuroHealthNet is done with a lot of care. The enhanced perspective I can gain is going to be so valuable for us in Tuscany Region.’’
The most experienced EB member smiled in his quietly knowledgeable way when he heard that remark. Bosse Pettersson is a former EuroHealthNet President and helped lead its evolution from the original Network of European Health Promotion Agencies. Now he advises the Ministry of Health in Sweden and is part of its representation at the highest levels of WHO while continuing as our Vice President. ‘’The breadth of approach that EuroHealthNet offers is unique,’’ he told me ‘’ it is not only about risk factors, diseases and conditions, but also social, economic and environmental determinants of wellbeing and equity. That is challenging, but so important and valued internationally.’’
His fellow Swede agreed. Birger Forsberg is a senior manager at Stockholm County Council: ‘’the jungle of EU bodies is difficult to understand from outside. EuroHealthNet membership helps us navigate that, but being involved in the EB brings it even closer to home’’.
Across the Baltic Sea, the view from the capital of Latvia comes from a different perspective, of a small state that has joined the EU more recently, but has similar echoes. Ineta Zirina runs a large primary health and care department at Riga City Council, having initiated the development of health promotion infrastructure and research at national and regional levels. “That is right – EuroHealthNet is unique as it is broad based geographically and thematically. The exchanges of experience mean better international perspectives for us, we are better aware of opportunities to be involved.’’
The voice of the largest EU state brought an even wider reflection. Helene Reemann is a long term participant in EuroHealthNet business and major projects on behalf of the German health promotion agency BZgA and has served on the Board since 2006. She pointed out: ‘’European Union is formed of people working together, which is better than struggling separately. It pays to be well connected and part of a EuroHealthNet community which offers high levels of expertise that I can take back to have real impacts in my country. This continues to be a valuable experience.’’
All this was well summed up by the current president, Nicoline Tamsma from RIVM, the Netherlands institute for health and environment, who has decades of experience of networking nationally and abroad. ‘’You can’t miss EuroHealthNet if you are working in international and EU policy areas. We are a big institute, so the diversity of EuroHealthNet is important, both for a wide ranging partnership and for bringing health promotion to the table in links with other policy areas such as social care or sustainable development. Plus it is always lively and results in interesting opportunities on the ground. Improving health and equity is close to my own heart and to all here – so what better place to act for it?’’
With that it was back to work, as Nicoline called the meeting to order to complete its agenda. In two packed days it considered extensive work within the EU Employment & Social Innovation Programme, projects completed and being submitted in two EU research programmes, work on mental wellbeing and chronic diseases under way in the Health for Growth programme, links with WHO and other organisations, and involvement in processes towards global sustainable development goals. All that was discussed and agreed, plus its own resources and governance matters, for which the EB has key responsibilities.
The EB meets twice each year, holds bi-monthly calls, and organises the annual general meeting of the whole partnership network, to be held this year in Newcastle, England 2-4 June. There, elections are always held for any vacant places on the EB. New nominations are always welcome.
If the reasons for taking part explained here resonate with any readers, do get in touch with our Managing Director Caroline Costongs at the EuroHealthNet Brussels office or call + 32 2 235 03 20 for a chat.
You will be very welcome if you wish to join us!
We wish to thank Nicola Wilson (North of England EU Health Partnership – NEEHP) and Malcolm Ward (Public Health Wales) who are also part of the Executive Board.