Opening Ceremony 14th EPH Conference: Public health futures in a changing world

Wednesday 10 November 2021, 14:00 – 14:40 PM CET




European public health has had a difficult year. Across Europe the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic has not been entirely successful. This is despite an enormous amount of hard work in public health units all across Europe. It reflects a weakness within the profession, which has been manifested in the curious phenomenon of dual strands of public health advice, official and unofficial, in several European countries. Politicians were placed in an impossible position by this. This needs to be openly and constructively faced. By and large, public health has had limited impact on the design and implementation of a core public health policy.

The world of public health changes, but many key pieces remain the same. A key part is to hold to that which we value, and to build on that, to meet new and pressing needs. A focus on where we are, and where we want to go might be helpful for clarification. The relevant word is ‘futures’, and not ‘future’. We expect an even more diverse public health, with the public health workforce delivering in new and more traditional arenas.

 ‘Times change, and we are changed with them’, as the phrase has it. Public health has changed a lot in the last thirty years. Whole subdisciplines, for example health informatics, and genetic public health, have grown up in that time. Has the core practice of public health changed? Does it need to? Should it?

If so, we need to lead and shape the changes. We need to identify futures for our discipline, and figure out how to get there. If we don’t, others will, and that is not necessarily for the benefit of our practice, our practitioners, or the public. If we are to be more than well trained technicians (which is not in itself a minor accomplishment) perhaps we need to articulate more forcibly who we are, why we are, and why we are relevant?

At this conference we look back on the past turbulent year, but we also look to the future. Naturally, we pay ample attention to the pandemic: how it has evolved, how it has been tackled and how to rebuild better. But we will also try to shape the future of our profession. In a series of plenary sessions, we look at different aspects of this future: how we communicate, what our professionals need, how we can apply technology and how we should match health with climate change.