EuroHealthNet Statement: What COVID-19 is teaching us about inequality and the sustainability of our health systems
EuroHealthNet leaders have issued a public Statement regarding the implications of the COVID-19 crisis and what our Partnership is doing to help across Europe. It indicates new measures are needed to not only tackle the immediate crisis but also build resilience and prevent recurrence. The EuroHealthNet Executive Board meets in videoconference this week to discuss immediate steps and strategic planning ahead.
What COVID-19 is teaching us about inequality and the sustainability of our health systems
COVID-19 is painfully exposing the existing and persisting health inequalities in our societies. This pandemic will have the heaviest impact on the lives of people living in deprivation or facing difficult socio-economic circumstances. EuroHealthNet partners – the public bodies responsible for health – are doing their utmost to protect citizens and contain the outbreak. In the difficult days and months to come, the need to work together will be clear. Protecting health is the responsibility of all. Good health starts in the community. In the long term, we must consider how our health systems are structured, their sustainability, and their ability to protect all in times of crisis.
“EuroHealthNet partners are now preventing the spread of the coronavirus to support us all. Now we must join forces with all sectors to make the changes that will protect our workforces, the people at greatest need, and the sustainability of our health systems. We have to be visionary and have to get prepared for the future needs of people, routed in the economic and social changes caused by the virus.” – Dr Mojca Gabrijelcic, President of EuroHealthNet and senior advisor at the National Public Health Institute in Slovenia.
To read the full statement see here: eurohealthnet.eu/COVID-19
How EuroHealthNet members are responding to the COVID-19 crisis
Last week EuroHealthNet held a videocall for the EuroHealthNet Communications Network, which is made up of communications specialists in our member agencies in European States. An online platform to exchange practices and collaborate has been established for the group. This meeting was dedicated to responses to COVID-19, particularly on communicating with commnuities that experience vulnerability.
Some examples of promising practices are provided here.
The Italian National Institute of Health (ISS), AViQ, BZgA, Prolepsis, the Hungarian National Public Health Center, the Institute of Public Health Ireland, the Veneto Region, DoRS The Latvian Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, RIVM, the Norwegian Directorate for Health, the Polish National Institute of Public Health, the Portuguese Institute of Health Doutor Ricardo Jorge, the Slovak Ministry of Health, NIJZ, the Spanish Ministry of Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare, the Swedish Public Health Agency, Public Health Wales and Sante Publique France have all published new webpages with information, resources and guidelines.
Responding to public requests for help
- THL (Finland) , RIVM (The Netherlands), the Swedish Public Health Agency, and the Portuguese Institute of Health Doutor Ricardo Jorge created information resources and a Frequently Asked Questions section on their websites, answering health-related questions as well as practical questions about travel or how to handle quarantine. The material also includes a glossary of medical terms used to discuss the pandemic..
- The Italian National Institute for Health (ISS) published a number of informational posters and leaflets covering a range of topics such as how to properly wash your hands, how best to handle isolation, how to manage waste while in isoltation, and where to get help for smoking addiction. Among the materials is a glossary of medical and public health terms often used to speak about the pandemic, and a daily infographic about the situation in Italy in English.
- Alongside information about the crisis, SOSTE (Finland) has published a list of organisations where citizens can find support, for example on home teaching and counselling.
Mapping and assessing COVID-19 symptoms
- Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) is setting up an ‘infection radar’ for mapping COVID-19 symptoms in the Netherlands. The infection radar is part of a European collaboration of universities and authorities to map symptoms of viruses. It lets people enter their symptoms once a week. This information, together with the location of participants, will allows RIVM to follow how COVID-19 is developing and spreading through the Netherlands. Moreover, while official data on the number of COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands is based on cases identified by medical doctors, the infection radar will take into account milder cases of COVID-19 infections that do not require medical attention and go otherwise unnoticed, allowing for a more accurate and realistic picture of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Region Stockholm published a self-assessment test for citizens to help assess whether they have symptoms that correspond with COVID-19 and whether their situation requires medical attention.
Help for diverse communities
Pharos (The Netherlands) made a particular point of disseminating easy-to-understand information, producing a webpage with information in short sentences and with illustrations (available in Dutch, Turish, Tigrinya, English, Arabic, Farsi, Chinese and Polish). All information on the webpage was tested with so-called ‘language ambassadors’: people who know what it is like to have trouble writing and reading through own experiences, and who are trained to convince a diverse field of actors of the importance of providing easy-to-understand information and training basic language skills for everyone. This information material was especially appreciated by Vluchtelingenwerk, a Dutch NGO that helps refugees with asylum applications and their integration into society.
Countering misleading news about COVID-19
- To help citizens distinguish between credible information and false news, the Flanders Institute of Healthy Living published an overview of myths and facts.
- BZgA (Germany) dedicated a webpage to finding and recognising reliable information, setting out where to find good information, how to use search engines, how to judge information on social media for quality and how to rate websites in terms of credibility. It also offered a checklist that can be used to check if a website is reliable.
- AViQ (Belgium) created a social media campaign called I get my information on official websites that uses attractive visuals to urge citizens to stay informed about COVID-19 by reading the news daily and listing reliable sources for information. It is accompanied by a campaign called I communicate virtually, which sets out the different technologies that can be used to stay in touch in times of physical distancing.
Addressing needs of children
The Portuguese National Institute of Health Doutor Ricardo Jorge has created a special space on its website for children to explain COVID-19 and to ensure they have access to educative material. The space includes a game about preventing the spread of the virus, a story called ‘My grandmother has COVID-19’, a national reading plan to enable and stimulate children to read books during confinement, and links to an free e-books and to a website for children with games, activities and more info about COVID-19.
Special focus on mental health and wellbeing
- To enable citizens to take care of their mental and physical health during this challenges time of social distancing and quarantine, the Flanders Institute of Healthy Living offers advice on keeping up physical activity during confinement, keeping up a healthy lifestyle and taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing while teleworking.
- DoRS in Italy has provided scientific evidence on managing the psychological impact of quarantine and isolations, gathering the results of studies aimed to support authorities.
Coping with rare diseases and co-morbidities
The Italian National Institute of Health (ISS), in cooperation with the National Centre for Rare Diseases (CNMR) and the Italian Federation of Rare Diseases (UNIAMO) have released an online questionnaire to learn about the needs of patients with rare diseases during the COVID-19 pandemic. The questionnaire is available here.
Advocacy for financial and other support for people and groups
- As the Finnish government responds to the COVID-19 crisis with support measures for businesses, SOSTE has advocated to have public organisations included in such measures. NGOs and other public organisations have to adapt their services in light of the crisis and their continuity of operations is of high importance. Many organisations do not have a buffer fund that can cope with these exceptional circumstances, which may lead to layoffs and bankruptcy.
- Prolepsis has called on the Greek government for extra support for vulnerable groups that need extra measures to prevent being infected with COVID-19. Groups such as the homeless, Roma, people below the poverty line, immigrants, refugees, and religious minorities face issues such as limited access to information on precautionary measures, and limited access to medical supplies, over-the-counter drugs, and adequate and nutritious food.
- Moreover, Prolepsis called on the government to encourage access to primary care for undocumented migrants in light of COVID-19 pandemic. International experience shows that undocumented migrants are very likely to hesitate to seek medical help for fear of greater discrimination. However, when their health needs are neglected, undocumented immigrants who enter the country in need of medical attention due to symptoms of coronavirus do not only risk their own health, but also the public’s health in the receiving country.
World Health Organisation updates and resources on COVID – 19
The World Health Organisation has published new information, resources and guidance for public, professional and policymaker use. The main source for updated information in Europe is here.