Innovative ideas to advance Europe’s healthy recovery

Over 650 health policy and public health experts from across Europe joined this year’s digital European Health Forum Gastein (30 Sept – 2 Oct 2020) and explored how we can build more resilient healthcare systems and societies while reconceptualising economic growth and well-being.

The European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), Europe’s most important health policy conference, was being held online for the first time this year under the theme of “Dancing with elephants – New partnerships for health, democracy, business”. As it was held against the backdrop of the biggest health crisis of modern times, the EHFG 2020 witnessed visionary discussions geared at transforming our current health and economic systems. Over 650 health experts from governments, civil society, academia, and business participated in over 20 workshops and plenary discussions, focusing on Europe’s biggest public health challenges.

Discussions at the EHFG 2020 were marked by two overarching themes which are both indispensable for a strong and united recovery of Europe. These are the interlinked relationship between health and economic growth, and the value of multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder partnerships. As underscored by Sandra Gallina, Acting Director General for Health and Food Safety at the European Commission: “Investing in health is a preliminary condition to any economic growth”. A healthy and sustainable recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will only be possible by addressing health and economic growth in tandem, while engaging with all sectors of society. The fight against COVID-19 and the rising “pandemic fatigue” cannot be overcome by any single actor, but rather require multi-stakeholder efforts and “clear political leadership”, as emphasised by Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. Expertise and action from the health work force, the care sector, scientists, governments, the private sector, and patients are needed to effectively tackle COVID-19.

Access to medicines

Keynote speakers and participants at the EHFG also addressed one of the most controversial topics in healthcare, one that has been further amplified by the pandemic, namely access to healthcare services and medicines. While the private sector is inarguably an essential partner in public health, speakers highlighted the need to find a new way to support a strong innovative industry, while also ensuring that innovation is accessible and affordable for patients. As Colin Crouch of the Max Planck Institute put it: “The pandemic gives us a chance to rediscover the evils of inequality and the need for shared collective action.”

Ministers and high-level representatives from EU Member States as well as from the World Health Organization, the European Commission and the European Parliament also reflected in detail on the lessons learnt from the pandemic. They shared their aspirations for a European Health Data Space, discussed the concept of a European Cancer Dashboard, and ultimately outlined their vision for a European Health Union which will be essential for health system resilience and future pandemic preparedness.

A momentum for sustainable change

As Clemens Martin Auer, President of the EHFG, put it: “COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of the life we have previously known. It has changed the way we live, socialise, work, travel, and seek healthcare. I am confident, however, that the pandemic has created a momentum for real and sustainable change. We now have the prospect to re-think and transform health policy-making and multilateralism at its core.” Dorli Kahr-Gottlieb, Secretary General of the EHFG, expressed that, despite the challenges in 2020, it was extremely important for the EHFG to once again provide the platform for a meaningful, inspiring exchange between the most important decision-makers in European health policy.

(Press Release of EHFG 2020)