WHO puts spotlight on leadership capacity-building at European public health conference


At the 7th European Public Health Conference, which was held in Glasgow on 19-22 November, WHO emphasized the need for national governments, academia, civil society, and designated public health institutions across the European Region to commit greater efforts to developing leadership skills for individual and institutional actors in the public health field. Such skills are seen as a key factor in successfully protecting public health values against special interests, defending health budgets, and forecasting and mitigating the effects of unconventional public health threats, such as financial crises and commercial determinants of health.

The conference, themed “Mind the Gap – reducing inequalities in health and health care” and convened by the European Public Health Association (EUPHA), brought together over 1,400 public health practitioners, policy-makers and researchers from more than 65 countries. Its overarching goal was to promote knowledge exchange of policies that have helped reduce health inequalities across the WHO European Region, and in doing so to inform and motivate attendees who may wish to advance similar measures in their countries.

In more than 120 sessions, skills-building workshops, and round-table discussions at the meeting, participants discussed topics such as the changing roles of public health professionals, addressing the gap in health systems research capacity in Europe, communicating effectively to heighten awareness of alcohol- and tobacco-related health risks, and health in times of austerity.

WHO’s contribution to public health leadership invited participants to consider the differences between leadership and management, the contexts within which public health leaders operate, and five key leadership functions:

  • forecasting and visioning; 
  • developing strategy and policy; 
  • decision-making and problem-solving; 
  • communication and advocacy, and 
  • building coalitions and supporting networks. 
WHO also emphasized the need to strengthen collective capacity for system thinking that considers population-based as well as personal approaches to health and well-being improvement, proactive and reactive approaches to problem-solving, and soft skills for liaising between policy sectors and reaching beyond health sector constituencies.

The presentation was delivered by Dr Elke Jakubowski, programme manager of public health services at the Division of Health Systems and Public Health, within the context of a launch session for the book Facets of Public Health in Europe. The book is published by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies in partnership with the WHO Regional Office for Europe and presents up-to-date evidence on public health practice in Europe, including international approaches to tackle health inequalities, knowledge brokering to bridge the information-action gap in European health systems, and modern forms of public health leadership.