Dorli Kahr-Gottlieb, EHFG Secretary General
European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) – an annual leading health policy event that is now taking place for the 17th time. That is probably a long history for a conference. So during those years what were the major achievements and changes in the EHFG, how was it earlier and how is it now?
The EHFG started as a pioneer project between the European Commission, specifically the Commissioner for Health, the Austrian Ministry and the founding president Prof. Günther Leiner. The original idea was to bring main and high-level European stakeholders from different sectors together in the beautiful Gastein valley. It started out with a couple of hundred attendees and slowly developed to its current size of about 600 participants. The basic idea is still there – it should bring different stakeholders together, offer them a platform for exchange and for networking. Additionally, we are now trying to focus more on the content and dissemination of our results to decisive European bodies and on allowing all sectors and regions to participate (e.g. the NGO sector – by offering a low NGO fee and by offering a free-of-fee workshop slot in the conference; the South Eastern European region by a collaborative workshop with the SEEHN network). As one major achievement I see the fact that the Health Commissioners have taken part in the Forum every year with one exception only, and that many Ministers of Health regularly attend.
What do you personally like the most about the EHFG?
I very much enjoy working with many different people from different cultural and professional backgrounds. I am also very proud of the Young Forum Gastein network which in my opinion has developed into a European showcase project in health.
This year the central discussion is about where we are and where we will we go. Could you pick out or highlight one issue that, in your opinion, will be a key (word) in the near future?
In our discussions with many speakers and participants and members of our board and advisory committee and of course due also to the Ebola crisis, health security has become a term of great relevance and one which will likely accompany us for a while. The Commissioner elect has declared health security to be one of his priorities during his term. And, viewed in a very broad sense by looking at the security of health systems as a whole, a sense of security for citizens due to social cohesion, prevention & promotion, etc. Besides the straight-forward interpretation of protection against infectious diseases, it will surely be on the agenda of next year’s EHFG.
The EHFG is now characterised by the four pillars – politics and administration, business and industry, science and academia and civil society. Which of those pillars should undertake the leading role in changing health policy, what do you think?
I strongly believe in what has been discussed for 15 years or so and still has not been fully implemented – health in all sectors/policies. Therefore, I do not think that any one of the pillars should or could steer health policies on their own but that they should jointly shape the agenda.
What is the EU to you?
Ideally, the EU to me is a place of solidarity and one of possibilities and equal chances, a place where we have the chance to travel freely, where we live in democratic and diverse societies, where we have the chance to choose our place of living and working freely and where we have a union of solidarity that allows for equality and fairness. Clearly, we are not there yet but I strongly believe in these core values and the future of Europe.
You are always surrounded be famous and important people. What could you say about them, how would you characterise them, are they different, do they have some similarities?
That is very difficult to answer, Andrius! One “famous person” is different from another; most are very approachable and are faced with the same everyday joys and obstacles that any of us are. In Austria we have a saying that in the end “everyone needs water for cooking!”
Dorli, you are EHFG Secretary General, before you were also organising the European Public Health Conference and before that working at the Graz Medical University. It seems that you could also have many tips for Young Gasteiners. Could you share those with us please?
You mean how to get into these kinds of positions? I think most of you, Young Gasteiners, have what it takes – dedication for your work, an openness for other people and other ideas, a willingness to work hard, and then, of course, it also takes some luck and knowing the right people – which is also provided by the networking possibilities for Young Gasteiners.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you while working and organising the EHFG?
The funniest (and nicest!) thing for me is always to see high-brow policy makers and serious researchers, Young and Old Gasteiners meeting on the dance floor after dinner, having a great time, enjoying the music and dancing.
Thank You, Dorli, and let´s keep on dancing!
Interview conducted by Andrius Kavaliunas (Young Forum Gastein 2014 scholar)