Summits give citizens a voice in creating sustainable health policy

The Citizen Summit, an innovative and participatory meeting held in Eupen, Belgium on 9 February 2019, gave more than 60 citizens from the regions belonging to the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion (EMR) an opportunity to express their personal views on health:

“Health access for all is a condicio sine qua non. We cannot put solidarity into question. If we do that, equity is over.”

“We are concerned about the future of our health care, especially for our children. Inequalities are widening in the world and also within our regions.”

“Our voices need to be heard…. Health is important for us and we want to be an active part of the decision-making process. Events like these are fundamental; we should organize such meetings more often!”

These represent just a few of the views shared at the meeting, which was moderated by Nicolas Decker of European Patients Empowerment for Customised Solutions (EPECS). This was the first of two citizen summits, co-organized by the WHO Regions for Health Network and the project People to People Interreg EMR. A second summit was held in Aachen, on 16 February 2019 with more than 80 citizens actively participating. The EMR comprises portions of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

Roundtable discussion yields insights on key health topics

At the summits, citizens belonging to the EMR were invited to share their opinions in a roundtable format, using their native languages (German, French and Dutch), on three main health topics:

  • equity, meaning that all citizens receive the care they need, regardless of social or economic status;
  • participatory approach, meaning the ways citizens are involved and engaged in health policy decisions;
  • human resources for health, in terms of the personal experiences citizens have with health professionals and others working in the health sector.

“It is important to identify opportunities, and suitable tools and methods to involve people,” noted the main organizer of the citizen summits, Brigitte Van Der Zanden, euPrevent. “The citizens have brought crucial topics to the forefront, such as how health professionals deal with patients or how we can address together the challenges of demographic change and healthy aging.”

The roundtable discussions yielded many important insights from citizens. These will be compiled into a video and detailed report, which will be used as important input to open the debate during the 25th Regions for Health Network Conference: “Keeping people at the centre of health and sustainable development policies”, to be held on 26–28 June 2019. The conference will be jointly organized by the WHO Regions for Health Network, the European Committee of the Regions and the EMR.

“The idea is to actively involve the citizen as a central actor in health policy decision-making,” explained Rudolf Godesar, who within the EMR represents the German-speaking Community of Belgium and is a member of the Association of the European Border Regions. “As a result of both summits, we expect contributions, suggestions and new ideas to work together for equity and participation in health.”

This article appeared earlier on the website of WHO Europe.