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Member's blog - Other

Message from the President: The reign has ended

Publication date: 19.10.2022
Author: John Middleton

It has been an honour to have been your President over the past 3 years. ASPHER has been part of a global effort to improve and protect the health of the people we serve and protect the planet. It is three years since we last met together in Erice, Sicily, But I believe we have been together more strongly, more intently, and more effectively than at any other time in our history.

The COVID era

The pandemic of COVID-19 has come between us, almost for the entirety of my Presidency. It has been a disaster and a tragedy. To date there have been 621 million confirmed cases, and6.5 million known deaths worldwide. ASPHER responded early in the pandemic, with ourCOVID-19 task force. We have held over 100 meetings and have published more than 120 papers. COVID-19 has impacted on our health. It has also damaged our economies, our education, and our environments. Our responses, as societies have allowed inequality to grow to even more unacceptable levels, between rich and poor, between minorities and between men and women, and against people with disability, vulnerability, and gender differences, within and between countries. The pandemic has affected us all, as professionals, making demands on us in our institutions, in our teaching practices, and in our care and support for colleagues and students. And it has made demands on all of us in our personal lives. Many of us have experienced loss, of family, friends, colleagues. Many have suffered personally from Covid and other illnesses. I salute a public health community which has climbed to the summit of selfless public service. Thank you.

For a profession which exists for the protection of the health of the public, we should not forget, nor neglect the fact that we are all members of that public too. ASPHER is mourning the loss of our Board member Carla Nunes. I invite you to pause to reflect on how you, your families, friends, and colleagues have been personally affected through the pandemic. We must look after our own health and the health of those around us – no-one else will.

ASPHER business accelerated

Before the pandemic, ASPHER had enjoyed years of what I would describe as ‘comfortable progress’. There were great and important tools for ASPHER members in many areas of our work. But many of our ambitions took years to come to fruition; people delighted in telling me about things that happened 20 years previous. We were weak on implementation, in my view. We were also reliant on a few committed enthusiasts, rather than making full use of the great reservoir of expertise in our schools, in all parts of the European Region. We did not have the climate of partnership needed to make things happen. We did not have a culture of unity. The European public health community appeared riven with minor tensions, pointless divisions and individual differences which threatened our reputation and limited our progress towards a strengthened, vibrant, professional service, capable of improving and protecting the public’s health. We have begun to address the relationship issues and strengthen our partnerships. There are too many forces, in geopolitics, and the disinformation era, for us to be distracted by arguments amongst ourselves. We stand together or we fall, apart.

The intensity of the pandemic has accelerated our ability to make progress on the major core business we are involved in. Digital conferencing has been propelled forward enabling us to meet quickly and more representatively with colleagues local and global.

Driven by member interests – the young professional agenda

Our commitments to the young professional agenda have borne dividends as early career colleagues have been enabled to play a strong and active part in ASPHER business. They have presented at conferences and symposia, published in a range of journals and blogs, and been part of the developing governance of ASPHER. We welcomed Ines Siepmann as the first ASPHER young professional board representative. We have created the honorary position of ASPHER Associate Fellow, and welcomed Rok Hrzic, Lisa Wandschneider and Karen Dopelt as the first of this group. We also have ASPHER Fellows, Tara Chen and Rana Orhan, who sit with the ASPHER secretariat. Our commitments to the early career professionals have also enabled us to shift the age profile of ASPHER membership, creating a better balance of youth and experience. They also give us a greater representativeness of ethnicity, diversity, and global outlook.

Driven by member interests – task forces and expert panels

Colleagues have come together because they wanted to address shared problems, the pandemic, and the war on Ukraine. We have thrown our collective efforts into revised competencies for applied infectious disease epidemiology and vaccine training, and on theclimate change and health education curriculum. ASPHER has begun to implement the work of my predecessor, Kasia Czabanowska, published jointly with WHO Europe, on competencies for the public health workforce, and the professionalisation road map. Mary Codd has taken on the mantle of curriculum and competence development with ASPHER Associate Fellow, Karl Konyard. We thank Anders Foldspang, Chris Birt and many others for their efforts building ourcore competencies and curriculum to the 5th edition, a greatly valued guide to schools of public health.

ASPHER members as corporate citizens – practicing what they teach

I was particularly keen to develop our corporate citizen agenda, so that we as schools ‘practice what we preach’. We have moved this forward on the climate change and diversity and inclusion agendas. We still have more work to do on these, and on the social involvement agenda for our schools. Rana Orhan and Tara Chen have been the engine for our efforts on climate change – what schools are doing and how ASPHER should reduce its carbon footprint. Most recently their work on the European Health Policy Platform has given us a prominent stage for our work, and really requires us to be carbon exemplars! We still need a travel policy! I am grateful to Lisa Wandschneider, Yudit Namer and Oliver Razum for their leadership on diversity and intersectionality.

Long term ASPHER projects, moving forward – APHEA

We have moved forward the work of APHEA, the Agency for Public Health Education Accreditation. APHEA was a child of ASPHER from early in its development, but has now embraced a more global outlook. We have built revised statutes, robust new governance and finance, active Boards of Directors and Accreditation and a stronger pool of reviewers. The Member lead organisations for APHEA are ASPHER and IANPHI, the International Association of National Public Health Institutes. APHEA is a unique and treasured asset to public health education. Reviewed schools appreciate the strong elements of peer review, the critical, and expert, friendly approach an APHEA assessment brings. APHEA adapted diligently, skilfully and pragmatically to the limitations imposed by the pandemic. I am grateful to Chris Potter, Selena Gray and Suzanne Babich for their work as Chairs of the Board of Accreditation, and to Julien Goodman for his tireless efforts as Director. 

Long term ASPHER projects, moving forward – Public Health Reviews

We also transferred ownership of the ASPHER journal, Public Health Reviews to the Swiss School of Public Health. This has enabled a new relationship with a dedicated editorial team at the Swiss School and Frontiers publishing. This has freed our secretariat from non-core business and freed ASPHER from financial liabilities. We continue to benefit from the collaboration with Public Health Reviews and have used the journal extensively over recent years for ASPHER statements. Most recently we have published two statements on planning forcoming winter threat,  and specifically on planning for COVID. We strongly urge our members to use the journal, submit papers, propose themed editions and contribute to Associate Editor functions. I thank Anke Berger, Nino Kuenzli and Raquel Lucas, for their commitment to this exciting and developing project. We thank Ted Tulchinsky and Lore Leighton for their part in setting up and leading the journal in its early life.

Strengthening partnerships – for European health

I describe our European partnership development in the latest European Journal of Public Health. I am grateful to Dineke Zeegers and Marieke Verschuuren, Walter Ricciardi and Iveta Nagyova of EUPHA, for their commitment to our shared agenda. We are continuing to develop our partnerships with the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), with EuroHealthNet, and with IANPHI, and we thank Milka Sokolovic and Sascha Marschang, Caroline Costongs, and Anne-Catherine Viso and Duncan Selbie for their continued support and cooperation. We have been recognised as an official Non-State Actor able to attend and address the European Regional meeting of WHO. Hans Kluge and Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat have been towers of strength, in their work for European public health and as allies for ASPHER. We thank them for their professionalism and friendship. Nadav Davidovitch, ASPHER Board member, addressed theWHO Euro Regional meeting in Tel Aviv recently.

Strengthening partnerships – for global health

We are European focussed, with a global outlook. The new Global Network for Academic Public Health (GNAPH) is now firmly established and I thank Laura Magaña and Dorothy Biberman for their vision and commitment to making this happen. My counterparts in our sister organisations across the globe have also committed strongly to this work, enabling us to position the actions and needs of schools of public health firmly on the global health agenda. We are working with WHO Headquarters, preparing briefing documents for the World Health Assembly, and the International Negotiating Committee for the new Global Pandemic Preparedness Treaty. We thank Jim Campbell, Director of Health Workforce WHO Geneva, for his great leadership of this work.

We are also building a strong relationship with the World Federation of Public Health Associations. We built a strong shared statement on vaccine equity, influential in global health channels, although still with much more to be done. Particularly nice work from Alison McCallum and colleagues there! Most recently ASPHER on behalf of GNAPH, is a partner in planning and delivering the World Congress on Public Health to be held in Rome, May 2-6, 2023. If you only go to one meeting in person in 2023 – make it this one! We thank Bettina Borisch, Walter Ricciardi, Luis De Eugenio De Souza for their solidarity and hard work!

A spectre is haunting Europe

Pandemics have always brought social upheaval, for better sometimes, for worse often… We need to build better national and international public health systems of protection, applying equally and fairly across the globe. And we need to build back societies which will be healthier, fairer, productive, and sustainable. A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of fascism. But we cannot go back to the era of austerity, nationalism, and greed. It is our responsibility, and our dangerous and difficult task, to ensure we learn the lessons of history and plan for an outbreak of health.

With thanks

It has been a great honour and a privilege to serve ASPHER over these difficult years. I will continue to serve as Vice President, and as Chair of the Honours platform. I look forward to continuing work with incoming President Carlo Signorelli. I am grateful for the constant and energetic support I have received from Carlo and from my colleagues in the ASPHER executive. I thank also the COVID-19 task force and I would like to also thank my predecessor, Kasia Czabanowska for enabling effective continuity to our ASPHER strategy and her continuing involvement In ASPHER business. I owe a great debt of gratitude also to Jose Martin-Moreno for his wise counsel, his unerringly support to me personally, and in his capacity as co-chair of the Honours Committee. Most of all, I must thank the ASPHER secretariat. Robert Otok is a tower of strength in the cause of ASPHER. I am extremely grateful to you Robert, for making things happen in my Presidency. I thank also, Lore Leighton, and Tatiana Caftea.

I was reminded recently of the phrase ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. In my first statement to the ASPHER membership I said, ‘We will seek to be inclusive, authoritative, evidence-based, pragmatic, supportive, friendly, and we will have fun.’ I will let you be the judge of how much of those we have been able to achieve…

John Middleton
President of ASPHER, May 26th 2019 - October 14th 2022

Download the ASPHER September-October 2022 Newsletter here.

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