Secretary General, European Public Health Alliance
Interviewed by Sofia Ribeiro, Young Gasteiner
Why do you consider the involvement of NGOs essential to achieve better health outcomes?
The involvement of NGOs leads to better decision-making, better implementation and better results for health. Our participation in health debates adds balance to the democratic process, and ensures legitimacy and practicability of decisions. NGOs can be the voice of common sense and especially of groups who are routinely excluded from policy-making, embracing the full range of diversity. These groups may include children and teenagers, refugees and migrants, unemployed people and people below the poverty line, homeless people, people suffering from mental health issues and addictions, Roma, LGBTQ, and many more. In the case of health, and for a given health problem, for example in chronic diseases, NGOs can represent the collective interest and experience of the workforce, patients’, families’ and carers’ perspectives and make sure their voice is heard in the public health debate.
Can you give some examples in which civil society had a decisive and transformative role in the public health debate?
There are several examples where civil society was able to play a decisive role in the public health debate. We can definitely mention tobacco control, but also cancer awareness and prevention, road safety, climate change, access to medicines and antimicrobial resistance. Health has become the killer argument for public interest – and together with health professionals, governments and experts we must make the best possible use of this.
What can civil society do to foster an inter-sectoral approach in health?
First of all, it is important to mention that civil society has always followed the inter-sectoral approach. NGOs that are contributing to the health debate represent the voice of several sectors, including consumers, academia, employers, human rights, environment, transport… This list is not exhaustive but can give an idea of whom we have to involve, particularly in major discussions such as Health 2020 and the SDGs.
Civil society can also support the application of the health in all policies approach in practice, particularly on accountability issues. NGOs should be an enabler of political choice for health and equity.
You are the Secretary General of the biggest NGO in Europe working on health. What were the main achievements of EPHA under your leadership and what will be the main challenges you foresee for the years to come?
Public health and health equity issues are climbing rapidly up the political agenda at the moment. EPHA has a supporting role to play in giving these issues a leg up in terms of raising political awareness across Europe. That includes the crisis of unaffordable medicines, lack of action on antimicrobial resistance, ignorance of the health needs of refugees, and the need for an overhaul of our food systems to reduce prevalence of obesity and avoidable NCDs.
I think we’ve made the point that the voluntary approach, for example to trust industry to limit aggressive advertising of health-harmful products to children, or to reduce harmful alcohol use, or to stop industrial pollution in antibiotics supply chains, has failed, and that stronger measures have to follow swiftly. Not only for the good of our health and to reduce inequality – which is higher than at any time in the last fifty years – but also to make sure that we can continue to count on our health services for years to come.
All of those issues are not only public health issues in Europe but global health challenges as well, and we’re seeing the two agendas really merging under the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. The next step of course is to translate this awareness of the problems that need to be solved, and the vision of the SDGs, into real policy action and solutions.
This interview was conducted at the EHFG Conference 2016 by the Young Gateiner Sofia Ribeiro