Beyond the Forum

The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), Europe’s most important health policy conference, is being held for the 26th time this year. The conference has long since become the springboard for many other important initiatives.

As soon as one conference comes to an end, the ten members of the team headed by Secretary General Dorli Kahr-Gottlieb delve into organising and running the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) for the following year. These days, however, the high-calibre health policy organisation offers far more than the plenary sessions, workshops and discussions at the conference in the Gastein Valley itself, which is visited every year in early autumn by decision-makers and experts from the realms of politics, business, science and civil society. Since the EHFG was first established in 1998, it has given rise to the following activities and initiatives, amongst others:

*       European Health Leadership Award

*       European Health Union Initiative

*       Hosting the Austrian Chapter of Women in Global Health

*       EHFG webinars

*       Young Forum Gastein network

The European Health Leadership Award singles out organisations that display exceptional leadership in safeguarding or improving the health of people in the European Region of the World Health Organization (WHO). The award was presented for the first time in 2007 – when it was still called the European Health Award – and went to the European Alliance Against Depression (EAAD). This network of researchers based in Leipzig, Germany, works to improve treatment for depression and to help prevent suicide. At present, the network consists of more than 100 regional partners in Europe, Canada, Chile and Australia and is involved in several European research projects.

The latest prizewinners

In 2021, the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (ESICM) was presented with the European Health Leadership Award. The programmes run by this medical society – LIVES C19 and C19_SPACE – facilitate knowledge exchange between stakeholders and provide health professionals with training for their non-regular work in intensive care units. In 2022, the award – which is supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection and comes with a prize of €10,000 – went to 100% LIFE, the largest patient-led organisation in Ukraine. This initiative’s work focuses in particular on the interests of people living with HIV and on providing them with extensive treatment. As Dorli Kahr-Gottlieb emphasises: “This year, the award will be presented to a grassroots initiative that is exemplary in its efforts to improve the health of European citizens – an organisation using bottom-up approaches and collective action to implement positive change for the health workforce.”

The wheels were set in motion for the European Health Union (EHU) Initiative in 2020 at the European Health Forum in the Gastein Valley by Lithuanian surgeon, civil rights campaigner and politician Vytenis Andriukaitis, the former EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. Together with 15 fellow campaigners associated with the EHFG, he subsequently put together the Manifesto for a European Health Union. This was addressed to the political leaders in Europe and was presented in 2021. The main calls in this document include:

*       Improving the health and well-being of all Europeans

*       Strengthening the solidarity within and between the Member States of the European Union, while paying particular attention to the needs of disadvantaged population groups

*       Providing security for all Europeans, protecting them from the major threats to health

*       Involving all citizens in efforts for improved health in Europe, and hearing what they have to say

Joining forces against the “glass ceiling”

Dorli Kahr-Gottlieb, Photo: EHFG

This year’s EHFG will also mark the official launch of the Austrian Chapter of Women in Global Health, which is facilitated by the EHFG team. Founded in 2015, the initiative now has 50 chapters in 47 countries with around 6,500 members and 100,000 supporters and works to actively promote gender equity. Dorli Kahr-Gottlieb explains why the EHFG team is campaigning for equal rights for women: “For structural and ideological reasons, women with the same qualifications generally find it more difficult to rise to a management position than men. We want to work together with others to do something to address and overcome this ‘glass ceiling’.” The healthcare system seems to be one of the main areas in which this is urgently necessary. Even though far more women than men work in this sector, the gender ratio in top management does not reflect this.

Women with the same qualifications find it more difficult to rise to a management position than men.


In 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic required that the EHFG only took place online. As of 2022, it has been held in a hybrid format, meaning that participants have the choice of attending in person or following the event online. Since the pandemic, the EHFG team has regularly organised webinars throughout the year as well. The most recent ones have focused on areas such as EU pharmaceutical legislation, One Health, and Cancer Care Efficiency.

Promising young professionals

Young Forum Gastein is an EHFG initiative which was initiated for promising young health professionals in 2007. Every year since a shortlist has been made from a large number of potential candidates; these selected scholars are offered a tailor-made workshop day before the start of the EHFG and can then take part in the conference free of charge, where they play an active role. This year, 55 applicants from a total of 180 were selected for an EHFG scholarship. At the early autumn event, they are able to have one-to-one talks with prominent mentors from health policy, health sciences, the healthcare industry and civil society. And they also have the chance to take part in other workshops, webinars and conferences during the year. The Young Forum Gastein network already includes over 600 members in total. Clearly, the future of the EHFG and its forum-related events and activities is in safe hands.