Regions for Health Network in action: study visit from Varna Region to Ostfold


On 23–26 October 2017, within the framework of the Regional Partnership for Health and Sustainable Development project, a team from the Varna Region in Bulgaria undertook a study visit to the region of Ostfold, Norway. The objective of the visit was to exchange good practice in the development of regional health policy.

The Regional Partnership project is financed by European Economic Area (EEA) grants provided for Programme BG07 “Initiatives for Public Health”. The Programme supports priority initiatives in response to the challenges of, and need for improvement to, the management of the health-care system in Bulgaria.

The Regional Partnership project aims to develop a policy model suited to the political, economic and sociocultural characteristics of the Varna Region, and to pursue intersectoral collaboration on enhancing the use of the health-in-all-policies (HiAP) approach. The HiAP approach improves accountability for the health impacts of decisions taken at all levels of policy-making, and contributes to equity and sustainable development.

The project’s first steps are to develop a regional health strategy and to consolidate whole-of-society partnerships, including with civil society and different stakeholders in the Varna Region.

The team from Varna included the chair of the Health Committee of the Municipal Council of Varna, the director of the Municipal Health Directorate, experts from the Municipal Health Directorate and the Municipal International Projects Directorate, experts from the nongovernmental organization Public Health–99, and representatives of the Faculty of Public Health at Varna Medical University.

During the 4-day study visit, the team met with the director of, and experts at, the Public Health Unit of the Ostfold County Council, researchers from Ostfold University College and local public health activists.

Workshops in Ostfold included presentations on:

  • experiences gained in the development of partnerships aimed at reducing health inequalities in Ostfold;
  • the partnership between the Ostfold County administration and Ostfold University College, with a focus on intersectoral collaboration in the fields of public health, education, media and business;
  • health information systems and the use of data in developing health policies at the regional and municipal levels; and
  • the public health status of the Varna Region, including comparisons of the policy frameworks of Bulgaria and Norway and public health activities carried out in the Varna and Ostfold regions.

Social capital was the thread running through all presentations and discussions. It was cited as one of the main reasons for the success and well-being of Norwegian society.

The workshops were combined with interactive demonstrations of the successful participatory practice of involving children, youth and adults in health-promoting activities. This fosters social inclusion and the development of social capital – trust, empathy, and a culture of social activism, participation and voluntary work. The demonstrations took place at the Inspiria Science Center.

Upon its return to Varna, the team shared its experiences with a wider audience from the nongovernmental sector, local health authorities including the Municipality of Varna, public health professionals and the media.

Norwegian cultural and social values, policy models and technical expertise are considered a source of inspiration, and have been analysed with respect to their possible adaptation to, and implementation in, the Bulgarian context.

The experiential learning and technical debates that constituted the study visit presented valuable opportunities for capacity-building and reflection on how models developed in different regions can be adapted to address local challenges. Such exchanges are examples of the Regions for Health Network in action, and represent a sustainable and participatory way of sharing expertise and generating news ideas.