It is with great pleasure that I present the fifth edition of the online EuroHealthNet Magazine. Its aim is to showcase the excellent work being done by national and regional public health agencies as well as collectively by the EuroHealthNet partnership.
We increasingly see opportunities for health promotion and disease prevention on the European agenda. For example, we welcome the efforts by the Latvian Presidency of the EU to highlight the cost-effective role of health promotion and prevention and the importance of tackling the causes of diseases. We sent a supportive letter to their discussion on health promotion at an informal meeting of health ministers this month. Also, in the context of the Annual Growth Survey (2015) and the related Employment Report, the EU aims to strengthen health promotion and disease prevention in all relevant policy sectors. Earlier on, the Social Protection Committee (SPC) stated that healthcare efficiency can be improved by addressing the social determinants of health and placing greater attention on health inequalities which would relieve pressure on European health systems. Of particular note, EuroHealthNet is invited to present the findings of the DRIVERS project on the social determinants of health equity to the SPC Indicators Sub-committee in June.
In order to encourage social investments in health promotion and prevention, we need not only to demonstrate what works, but also demonstrate how such measures can be implemented at a scale to have an impact. This means we need to enhance organisational capacities to plan and implement health promotion activities at local, regional and national levels. We also need to invest in human capital. One way of doing this is the European social and investment funds, which can be used to improve the skills of health professionals to include multidisciplinary working, new tools and ‘health in all policy’ approaches.
Several articles in this magazine show how this can be done. In Hungary 61 Health Promoting Offices (HPOs) have been set up with use of the European Social Fund to provide low-threshold centres with easy access to health promotion activities for people within their communities. Twenty of these 61 HPOs are based in the most deprived areas of Hungary. In Flanders, the Flemish Institute of Health Promotion and Disease prevention shows innovative work on mental health promotion by strengthening protective factors and improving resilience by, for example, using e-tools that have the potential to reach large numbers of people. Finally, the Czech National Public Health Institute describes how it is developing a national action plan against obesity, including specific measures for more deprived groups.
It goes without saying that health promotion can only be effective if it adopts universal approaches that are sensitive to the needs of vulnerable groups. As the article from the Institute of Public Health in Ireland shows, young children in the lowest socio-economic households suffer 50 per cent more from longstanding health conditions like asthma, eczema, hearing or sight impairments. All strategies to improve health should therefore address the socio-economic gradient as well as tackle the underlying causes of ill health and disease. This magazine also presents the DRIVERS outcomes on the need to provide quality early childhood services, fair employment, and adequate income and social protection. Tackling the root causes of disadvantage, coupled with effective health promotion measures, improved psychosocial conditions, enabling health-positive lifestyles (such as smoke-free areas – see further in this magazine), as well as providing access to essential services such as health care are promising recipes for improved health equity and wellbeing in Europe.
Last but not least, EuroHealthNet is not only looking at our national or European contexts. Migration, climate change, the on-going negotiations between the EU and the United States on transatlantic trade agreement (TTIP), global inequalities and many more factors have an impact on our health and wellbeing. One final article describes the political process surrounding the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and highlights the ones important for our work (i.e. goals on poverty, nutrition, education, gender equality, employment). EuroHealthNet is keen to link up with that global agenda and is already exploring opportunities to link health promotion with the sustainable development and environmental sectors.
Please do contact me if you are interested in joining us to achieve our ambition to improve health equity in integrated, multi-sectoral and innovative ways. EuroHealthNet has a dedicated office and a committed Executive Board.
We would look forward to working with you!
Caroline Costongs is Director of EuroHealthNet.