The 2021 IANPHI European Network Meeting Tackles Digital Public Health Issues

The 2021 IANPHI European Network Meeting was held on April 21 and 22, 2021, virtually hosted by Estonia's National Institute for Health DevelopmentThis year's spring meeting included four sessions focusing on increasing collaboration between network members, strengthening the network through partnerships and digital public health and COVID-19.

Building Bridges between IANPHI European Members

The meeting opened with a welcome speech from Dr. Tanel Kiik, minister of Health and Labor of Estonia, followed by an interactive session dedicated to the IANPHI European Network’s activities and the implementation of the IANPHI Strategic Vision 2021-2025.

Dr. Quentin Sandifer, chair of the IANPHI European Network, introduced a report adressing the network's activities in the past two years since his election in Chisinau, Moldova. In 2019, the European Regional Network focus was put on strengthening strategic relationships with key partners including the WHO Regional Office for Europe (WHO Euro), and maintaining the relationship with the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER).

Since 2017, IANPHI has been an active member of the WHO Euro’s Coalition of Partners, working to strengthen public health services and capacities across the European region. Workshops were jointly organized by IANPHI and WHO Euro three years in a row (2017-2019), back-to-back with IANPHI's European meetings. The 2019 workshop focused on establishing a national public health institute (NPHI) through mergers, producing a practical step-by-step guide.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 European Regional meeting was replaced by a series of webinars tackling a series of specific COVID-19 related topics. Additionally, during the year, the IANPHI European members contributed to the IANPHI COVID-19 Webinar Series and to a meeting on the lessons learned from NPHIs' COVID-19 responses, whose outcomes were explored during a session at the 2020 IANPHI Annual Meeting.

Since early 2021, efforts have focused on strengthening the contact with WHO Euro, starting with a meeting with its director, Dr. H. Kluge, in February to consider further opportunities for collaboration. IANPHI also reiterated its commitment to supporting the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development.

Looking to the future, Dr. Sandifer highlighted the importance of rebalancing the network's activities toward Eastern Europe and Central Asian States. He talked about the network members' commitment to work together, support one another and share knowledge and skills, encouraging more institutes to participate actively in the delivery of shared objectives.

With regards to the election process for the new chair and vice-chair of the network, Dr. Sandifer thanked Dr. Trygve Ottersen, executive director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, for submitting his application and invited members to join in and send their application before April 30. Newly elected chairs and vice-chairs will take up their new responsibilities by mid May 2021.

Strengthening the Network Through Strategic Partnerships

The second session of the IANPHI European Network Meeting highlighted the enhanced collaboration between the network and WHO Euro, by giving the floor to WHO representatives. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need to build strong public health systems, in which NPHIs are key actors for health protection and health security. Formalizing the collaboration between IANPHI and WHO is an important part of IANPHI’s mission to support its members through major partnerships.

Gabrielle Jacob and Pascale Goreux of WHO Euro's Transformation and Organisation Development team and Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, director of WHO Euro's Division of Country Health Policies and Systems, addressed the two main initiatives of the implementation of the WHO European Program of Work that have been proposed as areas for joint action: the Pan-European Leadership Academy and the Country Presence Review.

The Pan-European Leadership Academy is a three-tier academy, which aims to strengthen the public health workforce and create a professional network. The Country Presence Review aims to improve collaboration at a national level, by evaluating the relevance of WHO presence in European countries. What is at stake in the formalization of the IANPHI-WHO collaboration is finding ways to develop synergy between these programs and IANPHI actions, like peer-to-peer reviews or remote support.

The presentations were followed by an open discussion between members. Two main issues were raised during these exchanges. First, the participants agreed on the importance to take into account the learning from the COVID-19 pandemic in reviewing policies. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the necessity of a full societal approach to fight the virus. Stakeholders must transform this health crisis into opportunities to (re)build a more resilient Europe.

The meeting participants then discussed how to turn science into action through such international initiatives. IANPHI members asked for more collaboration within the IANPHI network, for example through peer-to-peer reviews or working groups on specific topics.

In addition to its partnership with WHO Euro, the IANPHI European Network can count on partnerships with other major European organizations in the field of public health. Representatives of ASPHER and of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) attended several sessions of the meeting, in order to coordinate initiatives and find areas for joint actions.

Digital Public Health Systems and their Application during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The last two sessions of the IANPHI European Network Meeting focused on the digitalization of public health systems. Following an opening presentation from Estonia's digital public heath lead, participants heard from eight different NPHIs. The floor was also given to digital health experts of Health Education England and Digital Communities Wales and to the World Health Organization. The panelists' presentations allowed participants to compare digital solutions implemented among their European counterparts.

Participants raised issues common to NPHIs in the region, such as data protection and privacy. The massive volumes of individual data collected as part of the digitalization of public health asks the question of the control of their use. For example, the participants shared their views on the link between public health and domestic public security and, in this perspective, the relation between NPHIs and government authorities. The sharing of individual data with police forces in order to control isolation of COVID-19 positive cases was a significant concern in the discussions.

The rapid development of digital public health during the pandemic also forced NPHIs to take into account the existing digital gaps linked to various socio-economic determinants and find ways to tackle these digital inequalities, in order to leave no one behind. Members agreed that digital public health was an interesting area for cross-border collaboration, as data sharing and standards harmonization at a regional level could help to prepare and face large-scale health emergencies.

Meeting Resources

Meeting Agenda

Session 1


Update and Discussion on the IANPHI Strategic Vision and Action Plan 
Cathy Morgan, Director of Strategy and Head of Policy Profession, Public Health England, United Kingdom

Code of Practice for National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs)
Bjørn Iversen, Senior Medical Officer, Department of Infection Prevention and Preparedness, Norwegian Public Health Institute, Norway

Additional Resources

Network and Bessi Webinars

Public Health Wales Report: ‘Placing Health Equity at the heart of Coronavirus recovery for building a sustainable future for Wales’ 

Call for expression of interest from the NPHI Austria: if you are interested to join the PHIRI Rapid Exchange Forum where European public health experts, policy advisors and some stakeholders discuss on a bi-Weekly Basis recent Topics regarding pandemic Management please email

Session 2


Implementing the European Programme of Work: Collaboration between IANPHI Europe and WHO EURO
Gabrielle Jacob, Special Advisor, and Pascale Goreux, Senior Specialist, Transformation & Organisation Development, WHO Regional Office for Europe

Additional Resources

WHO European Programme of Work: ‘United Action for Better Health in Europe’ 

WHO Euro and IANPHI: ‘A guide to establishing national public health institutes through mergers’ (2021) 

ECDC strategy 2021-2027

Call for Expression of Interest: ‘EU for Health Security in Africa: ECDC 4 Africa CDC’ 

European Public Health Week, May 17-21, 2021

Session 3


Digital Public Health and Cross-sectoral Collaboration 
Kalle Killar, Deputy Secretary General on E-services Development and Innovation, Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs, Estonia

Digital Public Health and Health Inequalities: a View from the UK 
Bob Gann, Digital Health Literacy Advisor at Health Education England & Expert Advisor at Digital Communities Wales, United Kingdom

Solutions of Digital Public Health Systems in Finland
Markku Tervahauta, Director General, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland

Public Health Electronic Disease Surveillance Systems and eHealth Integration
Ihor Kuzin, Deputy Director, Public Health Centre of the Ministry of Health, Ukraine

Public Health Benefits of Integrated Health Information Systems
Herman van Oyen, Scientific Director, Epidemiology and Public Health, Sciensano, Belgium

Session 4


COVID-19 and Application of Digital Public Health
Üllar Lanno, Director General of Estonian Health Board, Estonia

Digital Health and Israel COVID-19 Response
Roee Singer, Head, IHR National Focal Point and Deputy Director, Division of Epidemiology, Ministry of Health of Israel

Development of Digital Laboratory-Based Surveillance for COVID-19 in France 
Julien Durand, Scientific Project Manager, Division of Data Science, Santé publique France, France

Genomic Sequencing of COVID-19
Leena Inamdar, Consultant Epidemiologist, NIS Global Health Lead Consultant, Programme Lead, New Variant Assessment Programme (NVAP), Global Health Team, Field Service, National Infection Service, Public Health England, United Kingdom

Additional Resources

Public Health England Research and Analysis: ‘Variants: distribution of cases data’

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