The European Health Forum Gastein, Europe’s most important health policy conference, is being held online for the first time this year. The main theme of the conference is: “Dancing with elephants – New partnerships for health, democracy, business”.
Text: Dietmar Schobel
The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), Europe’s most important health policy conference, is being held online for the first time this year. Cooperation and networking will play a crucial role in the digital version of the event as well, as is reflected in the choice of this year’s conference topic: “Dancing with elephants – New partnerships for health, democracy, business”. The EHFG 2020 will address “elephants in the room” – major questions that often prevail yet nobody dares address – as well as potential new allegiances with major and powerful partners that are normally unusual for the health sector, but that may be vital in times of crisis if approached in the right way.
Only by confronting controversial topics can we aspire to emerge stronger from the biggest health crisis of modern times.CLEMENS MARTIN AUER, SPECIAL ENVOY IN THE AUSTRIAN MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND EHFG PRESIDENT
“COVID-19 has challenged our healthcare systems and undermined people’s well-being and wealth as well as fundamental constitutional rights and liberties,” says Clemens Martin Auer, special envoy in the Austrian Ministry of Health and EHFG President. He emphasises: “With only ten years to go to meet the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, we need to critically assess how new partnership models across sectors and borders can bring us back on track. Only by confronting controversial topics can we aspire to emerge stronger from the biggest health crisis of modern times and move forward on ensuring equitable access to health.”
Intersectoral collaboration is needed
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, new forms of intersectoral collaboration between states, business and citizens are urgently needed – the fact that health both shapes and is shaped by all sectors in society, including education, labour and the economy, is more apparent than ever before. COVID-19 and its manifold implications will therefore be covered either implicitly or explicitly in most of the 18 sessions and three plenary events at the EHFG 2020. At the same time, high-ranking speakers and the conference audience are invited to discuss some of the major challenges that already existed before COVID-19, and that continue to exist or have even deteriorated further: these include climate change, digitalisation, the increase in chronic diseases, antimicrobial resistance and health inequalities.
The virtual conference environment will allow for tailored networking between conference participants.DORLI KAHR-GOTTLIEB, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE EHFG
The EHFG 2020 will continue its familiar Gastein Valley format, namely putting an emphasis on inclusivity and interactivity across all sessions, and not shying away from difficult and controversial topics. “While the special environment for working in the magnificent rural setting of the Gastein Valley naturally cannot be substituted completely,” says Dorli Kahr-Gottlieb, Secretary General of the EHFG, “we are attempting to reproduce it in the digital conference as far as at all possible.” Special formats aim to achieve this, such as networking breaks and the EHFG Lounge, which will take place on Thursday, 1 October with a pub quiz. Furthermore, the virtual conference environment will allow for tailored networking between conference participants based on common areas of interest, and will facilitate this by providing ample opportunity for scheduling meetings directly within the conference environment.
Working together to find innovative solutions
The hackathon, where mostly young public health and tech experts are invited to find innovative solutions to a problem in the health sector by working together, took place for the third time this year. It explored how “digital solutions to support continuity of mental health care during times of crisis” can be structured to the best possible effect. Three finalist teams are selected by an expert jury panel from among all the participating teams. These will present their pitches to the audience during the Closing Plenary of the EHFG 2020. Two prizes – a jury prize and an audience prize – amounting to 25,000 euros will be awarded to the hackathon winners.
The Closing Plenary on the afternoon of October 2nd will provide a worthy conclusion to the EHFG 2020. Its focus will be “Health politics beyond COVID-19. Time for a European Health Union!”. Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, international cooperation was not at its best, an example being the export restrictions imposed by several states for Personal Protective Equipment. On the opposite end of the spectrum we could witness the admission of individual patients to intensive care units in other countries, a positive and encouraging example of cooperation across borders. It has become clear to many that strengthening the role of the EU in health policies and the function of its existing health institutions is necessary. The EHFG truly provides an ideal opportunity for consultation with all stakeholders in health to promote this joint endeavour.
THE EUROPEAN HEALTH FORUM GASTEIN
The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) was initiated by physician and former Austrian Member of Parliament Günther Leiner in 1998. The conference aims to advance discussions on health policies in Europe and bring together the players from four areas, the four pillars of the EHFG: these are decision-makers from the public sector, representatives from private industry and civil society, and also researchers and scholars. The primary goal has always been to develop workable policy recommendations.