World leaders recently agreed on an ambitious agenda for the next fifteen years. They adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). Every country – and this includes every country in Europe – is now expected to deliver on these goals and work towards achieving this “Agenda 2030”. It offers an exciting opportunity for health equity: SDG number 3 concerns healthy lives and wellbeing for all. Goal number 10 concerns inequalities. The other social, economic and environmental goals cover many of the underlying determinants of health.
There is second important UN process going on this year: the effort to achieve a binding agreement on climate change at the World Summit on Climate Change in Paris. There is an urgent need to protect our environment and resources. We are currently overusing the planet’s capacity and we can’t continue consuming and producing the way we do now. We can’t live healthily on a sick planet.
In fact, this was the theme of a EuroHealthNet plenary session at the 2015 European Public Health Conference in Milan. We discussed how to translate global goals to the European situation. How can we, as a public health and health promotion community in Europe, help mitigate climate change by changing the lifestyles of Europeans? In fact, are we well equipped to implement the Sustainable Development Goals?
Moving towards sustainable societies also means respecting human rights, welcoming diversity, integrating people that are disadvantaged or feeling excluded from society and supporting refugees in humanitarian terms. This is also reflected in the SDGs (goal number 16) and is particularly urgent given the situation in which Europe currently finds itself.
These are challenging times, and it feels as if we are entering a new era in public health and health promotion. Some of this new thinking is already reflected in the articles of this sixth edition of the EuroHealthNet Magazine.
The first article from the Norwegian Directorate of Health highlights the Trondheim Declaration. The declaration and its key message “Equity in health and wellbeing is a political choice” confirms the importance of socially sustainable communities. Indeed, solidarity, participation, universal welfare and good governance are crucial for a sustainable society.
These values are reflected in strategies from Public Health Wales and the Welsh Government to tackle health inequalities, as outlined in the second article. Their latest ‘Act on Wellbeing and future generations’ (2015) and its related monitoring process is exemplary. It is also underpinned by sustainable development principles and makes a direct legislative link to the SDGs.
The article by Federsanità reflects these currently challenging times. It also shows how the economic and social crisis gives new impetus to findsolutions to old problems. It shows how important it is to facilitate exchange of good practice among local level authorities. Moreover, they have set up a working group to fight corruption in healthcare services.
The Flemish contribution on the “Healthy Municipality” initiative is another great example of an approach to achieve sustainable communities. The initiative is based on principles such as local autonomy, integrated policies and participation. Other articles in this issue cover other important aspects of sustainable societies. Awareness of and improvement of mental health is an inevitable component, as set out by the European Mental Health Alliance; tackling obesity using tax measures, innovative campaigns and local strategies is another, as shown by the Health Equalities Group in England.
Moving towards sustainable societies cannot be done without measuring whether we are actually making progress. I suggest you read the article on how Portugal set up, built capacity and implemented its first National Health Examination Survey in close cooperation with the Norwegian Public Health Institute. Over 4200 adults across Portugal have been surveyed (on SES, lifestyle factors, health and mental health outcomes) and physically examined. This will be carried out again in 2020, with the purpose of obtaining evidence on health, wellbeing and health inequalities for policy development and monitoring.
Last but not least, this edition showcases several EuroHealthNet activities. Please do read contributions on IROHLA (promoting health literacy) by the Baltic Healthy Cities Network and on Quality Action (quality improvement of HIV/AIDS disease prevention). The final article describes how health systems need to reform and adapt to become sustainable, along with ideas from EuroHealthNet on how this can be put into practice.
I hope the magazine inspires you to continue your work and to take action. As ever, please do let us know your thoughts on the issues raised. We look forward to hearing from you!
Caroline Costongs is Director of EuroHealthNet.