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December 2021 President's Message

Publication date: 24.12.2021
Author: John Middleton

Season's greetings from the President

May we all, according to our beliefs, enjoy, celebrate, reflect, share and give in our December festivals (some just passed).

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi day, Pancha Ganapati, Omisoka, Kwanzaa, Yalda, Zaratosht No Diso, Yule, Winter Solstice, Universal Human Rights Day and more. 

Twenty twenty-one has been another historic, catastrophic and tragic year with the pandemic continuing to run, thwarting our efforts, exhausting us all, wearing us out, despite the promise of THE extraordinary effort on vaccination, testing and other public health interventions. Public health has been brought front and centre. Across many countries public health services and systems have been found weakened through years of austerity or allowed to wither because our messages have not been politically popular or sometimes downright annoying. Many politicians continue to be negligent, ignoring warnings and action on pandemic preparedness. On the other hand, ASPHER’s survey of the role of schools throughout the pandemic shows the extraordinary extent of influence on national government policies and local service delivery. I salute you all for the work you continue to do. Thank you.

ASPHER’s COVID-19 Task Force continues to be active. I remain grateful to colleagues for their enthusiasm and for the breadth and depth of the expertise they bring. ASPHER has now produced an extensive range of statements and handbooks which are well received across our membership and in many cases at the highest level of national government. I estimate something like 130 papers have been produced, many in peer reviewed journals, some achieving high citation scores, like our paper on third wave and winter planning concerns. You can pick up my latest thoughts on COVID in England, and in Europe in my companion blogs for December.

Our young professionals group continues to challenge and excel and I am extremely grateful to Ines Siepmann for picking up the mantle of young professional lead and ASPHER executive board member. We continued with the virtual ASSETS summer school meeting last summer and hope we can make it to Zagreb next year. Rana Orhan, our ASPHER fellow has done excellent work on our behalf, earning us, with your votes, a European Union Health Policy Platform Thematic Network for Adaptation actions on climate change and health (through education and training). She has also put together the ASPHER Climate and Health Competencies for Public Health Professionals in Europe built on the curriculum of the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education. We thank Cecilia Sorensen, GCCCHE for her help and interest in our work. Please use this vital resource.

In ASPHER’s internal business we are moving forward on the new website which will be launched in the new year. We have made major improvements to our governance arrangements and improvements in our finances. We have a lively and active group in our executive board and I am grateful to them for their commitment and support.

We have also driven forward the Global Network for Academic Public Health (GNAPH) with our sister organisations from other WHO Regions of the World. We are particularly grateful for the efforts of Laura Magaña and Dorothy Biberman from the North American Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), for helping us to propel our global agenda forward. GNAPH and the World Federation of Public Health Associations have joined forces to lobby the World Trade Organisation on the (TRIPS) Waiver. We are grateful to Alison McCallum and colleagues for the initiative behind our letter to WTO. More work has to be done on this if we are to vaccinate the world and get out of the pandemic. This year, we have produced the major statement on the vital role of schools of public health in teaching and training – calling for major investment by governments and by international funding agencies. Laura presented this to a meeting of G20 Health Ministries in October. ASPHER’s role in relation to European institutions and global public health was strongly explored in our Deans’ and Directors’ Retreat and we are extremely grateful to Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe; David Atchoarena, Director UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning; Jim Campbell, Director, Health Workforce Department, WHO Headquarters; Professor Peter Piot, Special Advisor on COVID-19 to European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen; Dineke Zeegers, EUPHA Executive Director; and Caroline Costongs, EuroHealthNet Director for their contributions.

And we have moved forward the ASPHER strategic 2025 agenda. We have improved and enhanced our internal governance, membership relations and financial procedures and we will be refining our internal rules in the new year. We continue to build on the work of past-Presidents Kasia Czabanowska and Anders Foldspang in embedding tools for competency and curriculum development. Our publication, the WHO-ASPHER Competency Framework for the Public Health Workforce, continues to be a key document for us. We have used it as a platform for our work with ECDC on competencies for Updating Core Competencies for Applied Infectious Disease Epidemiology (UCCAIDE), and for the ASPHER Climate and Health Competencies for Public Health Professionals in Europe. We expect to publish our professionalisation Road Map with WHO early next year. My thanks to Hans Kluge, Regional Director for WHO-EURO and Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat for their great enthusiasm and support for ASPHER and for their commitment to our joint working. Mary Codd, UCD and ASPHER Executive Board, is continuing to develop the competency work picking up from Kasia and Anders.

We have built on our partnerships with other European public health organisations EUPHA, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) and EuroHealthNet, and we are building on our work with the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI) and with APHEA. In May, we produced a joint statement with EUPHA, which is informing our joint agenda. We greatly value the prominence that EUPHA afforded us for the European Public Health congress in November; some of our ASPHER Young Professionals showcased their work and professional philosophies alongside WHO and Observatory contributions on the future of public health post pandemic. We were also able to present a unified front on the European Commission’s failure to support NGOs with the operating grant this year. We hope next year the grant will be fully reinstated – not just offered for a year.

Europe faces further uncertainty on the pandemic front as we enter 2022. Vaccines brought hope and extraordinary efforts were made by scientists, industry, health services and communities to get vaccines out widely. However, the virus is proving a worthy adversary – there is waning of immunity, a need to keep boosting, and a need to address vaccine hesitancy across all communities. Vaccination we now know does not do away with the need for social distancing and non-pharmaceutical protections. We face again, in 2021-22 a cold winter, possible flu, and further COVID.

Keep safe and protect yourselves, your families, your friends and colleagues. And come back renewed in the new year resolved to work better, smarter, not harder, to protect and improve the health of people and planet. 

I would like to offer my thanks for all your support this year, particularly to my colleagues on the ASPHER Executive Board, the COVID-19 Task Force and especially to the ASPHER Secretariat – Robert Otok, Lore Leighton, Rana Orhan and Tatiana Caftea.

And now by way of the traditional Dr J Christmas present, here is an anthem for our time – 'Lean on Me' by Bill Withers, played for you by Dr Harp's Medicine Band. Happy New Year!

John Middleton
ASPHER President 

Read Part 2 and Part 3 of the President's message.

Download the ASPHER December 2021 Newsletter here.

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