EHFG board to select six finalists for European Health Forum Award

Bad Hofgastein 13 September 2007As mentioned in the previous VMW issue, the "European Health Forum Award" has been inaugurated to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the European Health Forum Gastein. This new accolade will distinguish health policy initiatives in Europe that contribute to tackling key challenges faced by public health services. The European Health Forum Award will be awarded annually in future. The prize is sponsored by the Austrian Ministry of Health Family and Youth, Siemens Medical Solutions, Pfizer Germany, the Austrian Federal Chamber of Commerce and Pharmig, the Austrian trade association of the pharmaceutical industry.

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Although only initiated a few months ago, numerous remarkable projects were submitted for the European Health Forum Award. Almost 30 submissions were received. The EHFG board selected a shortlist of six finalists in August, one of whom will be presented with the European Health Forum Award. The prize will be awarded by a panel of experts, made up of leading health experts from across Europe, including former British health minister John Bowis and Andrzej Rys, Director of Public Health at the European Commission's DG SANCO.

The six shortlisted projects are:

  • "Medication Safety Belt": Assisting patients in the correct use of medication. Almost half of all patients do not take prescribed medicines correctly or cease treatment early due to a lack of knowledge or insecurity regarding the correct usage. The "Medication Safety Belt" project stores information on patients and provides doctors and pharmacists with relevant information on a patient's medications. The core elements of the project are a central medication database and patient management software. The project succeeded in reducing double medications by 40 percent and the percentage of chronically ill patients that did not take their medication by a quarter. Countries: Austria, Germany.
  • European Alliance Against Depression: A networked initiative for the timely treatment of depression. Around twelve percent of Europeans suffer from major depression at least once in their life; a large proportion of the 58.000 annual suicides in the European Union are a result of depression. Using a four-tier approach - intervening with primary care physicians; initiating a media campaign; special training for key groups such as teachers, clergy, police, pharmacists etc.; initiating self-help groups and emergency cards for those with suicidal tendencies - resulted in significant reductions in suicide rates in the target regions. Countries: Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom.
  • FINDRISC: Screening system to identify those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The "Finnish Diabetes Risk Score" (FINDRISC) is one of the most promising attempts in the fight against what is probably the "most expensive" widespread disease in the European Union: type 2 diabetes. FINDRISC was employed successfully in the DE-PLAN subproject to determine the risk of type 2 diabetes. A second subproject, IMAGE, included drawing up guidelines for the prevention of type 2 diabetes. For the first time, scientific evidence has demonstrated that the risk of type 2 diabetes can be reduced by more than 50 percent. Countries: Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Spain, The Netherlands, United Kingdom>
  • Cross Border Healthcare in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine: Trilateral network to improve the cross-border provision of health care in the border region. A significant portion of the European Union population lives in border regions - no wonder with 27 member states. Until now, citizens had only limited access to health care institutions and services on the other side of the border, even if these are easier to access. A pilot project in the densely populated Euregio Meuse-Rhine involving Belgian, German and Dutch insurances and hospitals has played a major role in improving patients' access to doctors across national borders, reducing waiting lists by using free capacity abroad and guaranteeing an integrated cross-border care chain. The project is a reference project for numerous other border regions in the European Union. Countries: Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands.
  • Quality Assurance in Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis: A network of pilot projects to develop best practice recommendations and guidelines for the early diagnosis and prevention of breast cancer. With 330.000 cases per year, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer amongst women in Europe. Screenings facilitating early diagnosis are available almost everywhere and are generally popular, however the success of the screening methods varies. Setting out a series of European guidelines for quality assurance in breast cancer screening and diagnosis allows international experience to be exchanged, and 19 countries hare already implemented similar national programmes. Furthermore, a series of effective best practice recommendations have been drawn up based on an analysis of the results. Countries: Belgium, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.
  • Smokefree Class Competition: Pan-European prevention programme for adolescents based on social learinng and group dynamics. Whether adolescents smoke has a decisive impact on whether they will smoke in adulthood or not. The Europe-wide school competition "Smoke-free class" primarily employs methods of social learning to create a situation where smoking is no longer perceived as "normal". It has since been proven that significantly less teenagers became smokers in classes participating in the competition. The project has therefore been included in many national anti-smoking campaigns. Countries: Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

The European Health Forum Award will be presented at the EHFG ceremony on Friday, October 5th, 2007. AHFG board member Heinrich Neisser stressed the scientific orientation of the prize: "We placed great emphasis on comprehensive reviews and analyses of the results of each project. Only initiatives with a solid scientific founding and supported by empirical evidence were considered for the European Health Forum Award. The European Health Forum Award is not bestowed for good intentions, but for health policy measures that have resulted in long-term benefits."

"The importance of such innovations and initiatives for the quality of health services is notoriously underestimated", Heinrich Neisser continued. "Advancements in traditional medical science are obviously of great importance, but the optimisation of organisational structures, better information on patients and motivating the general population to adopt a healthier lifestyle can, in reality, result in far more benefits and, above all, for far more people."

This year genomics will be one of the main focal points of the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) being held from October 3-6, 2007 in Bad Hofgastein, Austria, with 600 high-profile experts from the sphere of politics, health administration, industry, science and NGOs. Renowned European and North American experts will discuss the terms and possibilities for the increased use of genome-based knowledge in public health in the future.

"Policymakers and health care systems have to do their homework on the national and European stages now", according to Dr. Helmut Brand, head of the Public Health Genomics European Network (PHGEN). For this reason, the change in course towards integrating genome-based knowledge into health care systems will only take place very slowly - if at all, according to the head of the European Union-backed network of experts, which is responsible for the genomics forum at EHFG.

In the sphere of public health, in which genomics can make indispensable contributions to the understanding of disease and to better and more effective prevention, the opportunities currently enabling rapid advance in this area of knowledge are largely unavailed. "In most European countries we are not far enough to be able to discuss whether the legal framework is too liberal or too restrictive", stated EHFG President Professor Günther Leiner. The necessary findings have to be gathered and the framework for optimised prevention and therapy created now. After all, widespread diseases such as diabetes and cancer are all diseases in which genetic disposition is of major significance.

Meanwhile, the first concrete examples have emerged concerning how genomic findings can provide practical benefits for the improvement of a population's health. One example is that a certain receptor gene is responsible for a significantly heightened risk of causing diseases of the coronary arteries. On the basis of this knowledge, corresponding preventive measures can also be taken for persons who have a genetic risk. In the fight against infectious diseases genomics can provide valuable assistance as well. After all, there are a multitude of genetic conditions which determine whether a person can get a particular disease, whether he or she can transmit the disease and whether his or her body will respond in the desired manner to vaccinations or medications. "If we implement genome-based knowledge in a responsible way, public health can become far more effective and efficient", Mr. Brand is convinced.

The main issues which will be discussed in the genomics forum at the EHFG are:

  • What opportunities does genome-based knowledge offer public health?
  • What risks result for the individual and society from the broader use of genetic testing and other genetic diagnostics?
  • How can genomic knowledge be integrated into health care as fast as possible?
  • How can the fears of patients and citizens be addressed?
  • What options are open to the European Union for finding a common basis for future regulations?

The EHFG is of particular importance in 2007, according to Professor Günther Leiner, as the coming months will see important decisions that will set the course for future European health policy. "The opportunities that result from European integration in the health sector can yet be better harnessed. Specific European Union measures concerning health services are in the final stages of preparation. This initiative will lead to much higher legal security and more transparent health services across Europe, which will dramatically facilitate the mobility of patients and health care providers within Europe. The EHFG is practically the last chance for experts to discuss the European Union commission's proposals before a final draft is submitted."

Professor Leiner leaves no doubts that there are areas where the European Union can make a significant contribution towards improving health care in Europe. "With increasingly mobile patients, it is of paramount importance that health care providers know which services they can provide and under what terms. The European Union can provide a uniform legal framework, thus making life easier for both patients and health care providers. It is extremely important to patients to be able to rely upon safe health care of a high quality throughout Europe."


Leslie Versweyveld

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