Plenary 1: Public health practice, training and workforces for the future - Lessons from the pandemic

Wednesday 10 November 2021, 14:50 – 15:50 PM CET.
Organisers: European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, WHO Regional Office for Europe, ASPHER.


  • Suszy Lessof, European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies


  • Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, Director Country Health Policies & Systems, WHO Regional Office for Europe
  • Bernd Rechel, European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies
  • John Middleton, President, Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER)



In the COVID-19 pandemic, Europe faces its greatest public health crisis of recent times. Countries have responded differently and with varying degrees of success. Drawing lessons from their experience is essential if public health services are to be strengthened to be fit for future crises.

The WHO Europe and the Observatory are currently undertaking a study together with countries and key stakeholders to explore the challenges public health agencies and services have encountered. Preliminary findings on the role of public health; on how far it was listened to (and how effective it was in making itself heard); and on the implications for public health practice will be outlined. There will then be a panel discussion where those who will shape the field in the decades to come reflect on their experience and what it means for the ‘theoretical’ lessons learned. The panel will be comprised of Young Professionals within Public Health and they will consider the importance of: communications; inequity and vulnerable population;  capacity (institutional and individual); and accountability, transparency and governance. They will link their experiences in the field during the pandemic to the study’s perspectives on the challenges ahead in transforming practice, training and workforce.

The session will bring together the learning for the future of public health and those who will be part of the change. It will also showcase the value of people with different backgrounds and skillsets for a diverse and multidisciplinary public health.


  • To present preliminary findings on the challenges public health faced in responding to the pandemic and the potential lessons for future public health practice
  • To give a voice and visibility the next generation of public health Young Professionals allowing them to reflect on how public health might change to address the future health challenges
  • To encourage current public health actors to engage, share information and ideas, and enable change so as to build some consensus around the reforms needed in public health.


Welcome and introduction

  • Opening the plenary and introducing the theme - Suszy Lessof
  • Brief introduction of speakers - John Middleton

Presentation of preliminary study findings and key themes

  • Overview of key initial findings on the role of public health agencies and services in responding to the pandemic - Bernd Rechel
  • Drawing lessons for the future of public health practice and the steps to get there: focus, role, leadership, training and investment - Natasha Azzopardi Muscat

Topic I: Communications

  • How public health communicated in the pandemic: a personal case study and reflections on how to ensure that public health messages get through in future - Tara Chen

Topic II: Inequity and vulnerable population

  • The role of public health in protecting all of society: a personal case study of including the vulnerable and implications for the next generations of public health - Ines Siepmann

Topic III: Capacity (institutional and individual)

  • Institutions and individuals in the front line: a personal case study on the capacity to meet the challenges and the directions that might strengthen that capacity - Rok Hrzic

Topic IV: Accountability, transparency and governance

  • Complex decision making and lines of responsibility: a person case study of the leadership role of public health and the messages for developing future leadership - Tobias Weitzel

Moderated discussion

  • What can public health actors do in practice to strengthen public health for the future? How do Young Professionals play their part in the transformation of public health post-pandemic?

Wrap-up - Suszy Lessof, Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, John Middleton