Has Cinderella come to the ball in Slovenia? The Active & Healthy Ageing Project (AHA-SI)

27 July 2015

A local mayor came to the stage enthusiastically at the third conference of the EU co-funded national project seeking solutions to problems affecting older people in Slovenia, held in Ljubljana in the heat of high summer.

’I feared this demanding project at first, but now we are really proud of it in our municipality’’ he beamed. ‘’That does not mean our problems are solved yet; the co-ordinators being recommended are vital, but we need other resources. Volunteers are not enough. We need integrated ideas - like shared transport in rural areas so that when grandparents are taken to their day-care, children can also go to their schools or kindergartens.’’ Clearly his views were widely shared by the audience.

That heartfelt plea hinted at the depth of the difficult realities being explored in great detail in two days of workshops and joint sessions, bringing together health, care, retirement, economic, and social actors from all levels in this inspiring initiative, running from 2013 to the end of this year. There are few easy solutions, but no lack of awareness of the scale of the challenges and options which need to be considered. Manfred Huber of the World Health Organisation for Europe mentioned that integrated approaches for older people can be considered as ‘’the Cinderella problem’’: constantly falling between public, voluntary and private responsibilities, sectors and funds. The range of workshops leading to recommendations reflect that scale of the work, covering employability, retirement and pre-retirement activities, falls prevention, assisted independent living, long term care, demographic transitions, use of ICT and of course equitable health promotion, including healthy nutrition. There were more participants and more participation than ever before.

While much discussion focussed naturally on specific needs in Slovenia, there was substantial comparison and reference to neighbouring states such as Austria, plus wider learning from Nordic countries, the Netherlands and elsewhere. Experts from health, social and economic Institutes within Slovenia and across Europe contributed evidence. I moderated a session which included senior representatives from two European Commission directorates and two national ministries. Ministers and heads of Institutes were keen to demonstrate their commitment to achieving results.

EuroHealthNet was involved in the genesis of this work, stemming from meetings in Brussels, including in our office between ministry officials and our excellent national member, Dr Mojca Gabrijelcic from the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ). As part of our work within the EU Employment and Social Innovation programme (EaSI) we analyse national social developments within the EU Semester process, and try to help health bodies engage constructively using approaches for social investments. This project shows what can be done. With Mojca’s inspirational national guidance and great national team, we helped to facilitate EU co-funding for a two year process. We helped identify priorities with several national ministries and stakeholders. Expert colleagues in our Brussels office are formally engaged as evaluators, which is vital for wider learning about outcomes and effectiveness. As our Health Promotion Europe Manager Ingrid Stegeman commented: ‘’AHA-SI is an inspiring example how to break through silos, change attitudes and develop comprehensive approaches for more inclusive and sustainable societies’’.

Concrete and wide-ranging recommendations for national government will be brought forward in a follow up event in autumn of this year. Funds have been provisionally earmarked in programmes to 2020, including EU social and structural funds if appropriate. When agreed processes to implement this are in place and international translations are available in early 2016, EuroHealthNet will seek to showcase the outcomes across the continent, to contribute to the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP-AHA), the EU Social Investment Package implementation and to international approaches for age-friendly environments.

But it is on the ground in Slovenia, helping an ageing population and multiple national needs, that we hope the greatest immediate impact will be felt. The great efforts of participants suggest that it is indeed time for ‘’Cinderella’’ to receive deserved attention and action.

Clive Needle, July 2015