Healthcare priorities in European research strategies

In this blog Jan Foster asks Barbara Kerstiëns, Deputy Head of Unit and Research and Innovation Directorate-General at the European Commission, more about her role in advancing the public health knowledge of fighting infectious diseases.

Barbara KErstiens
Barbara Kerstiëns

Could you outline what your role is for the European Commission?

In Directorate-General (DG) Research and Innovation, our unit is fighting infectious diseases and advancing public health. We support the development of sustainable and resilient health systems and address global health issues.

We contribute to the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership Programme (EDCTP2), Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R), and we ensure the coherence between the objectives of our research and European health policy.

I oversee and coordinate European research strategies in areas such as antimicrobial resistance, quality of health care, maternal and child health, neglected infectious diseases, patient empowerment, and the Ebola and Zika epidemics.

What does your typical day look like?

It’s a mix of meetings and – like many of us – handling the flow of e-mails… The meetings are with my colleagues, or colleagues from other services such as DG SANTE. I also regularly meet different external stakeholders, academics but also patient organizations, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and so on.

Can you tell us more about what the healthcare priorities for DG Research and Innovation are this year?

Our research priorities are reflected in the Horizon 2020 programme, under Societal Challenge 1: Health, demographic change and well-being.

Our research priorities are reflected in the Horizon 2020 programme, under Societal Challenge 1: Health, demographic change and well-being. The research topics open in 2016 address diverse subjects, such as omics therapies for immune diseases, optimal use of European patient cohorts, the European Human Biomonitoring Initiative, vaccines for malaria and neglected infectious diseases, new therapies for chronic diseases, and implementation research for scaling up good practices.

The call in 2017 asks for proposals in the area of patient stratification, rare disease diagnostics and new therapies, mental health in the young, effectiveness of healthcare interventions, regenerative medicine, and health economic evaluation methods.

What projects can we expect to see showing results in the next few months?

In our portfolio of public health research projects, a portfolio that covers health promotion and health systems & services research, several are finishing at this time, covering themes such as patient education and support (EU-WISE, DIABETES LITERACY, IROHLA, INNOVAGE), perinatal care (EPICE, MOMI), and healthy lifestyle programmes (SPOTLIGHT, In-MINDD). More information on each can be found on our CORDIS website.

In infectious diseases, recently the Mosquito Contamination Devices (MCD) project coordinated by a SME, In2Care, developed a low-cost device that can reduce malaria mosquitoes (Anopheles spp.) known as the ‘Eave Tube’. It exploits the natural host-seeking behavior of the malaria mosquito vector, which enters houses through the eaves. This is the open space between the roof and walls of houses.

By closing the eaves and installing eave tubes (in PVC) every 1-1.5m with an insecticide treated electrostatic netting, that increases the efficiency of insecticides, the natural airflow in the house is maintained, and the mosquitoes still respond to host odours, emanating from the tube.

When they try to enter through the tube they encounter the treated netting that kills them. This system can reduce malaria transmission and can reduce insecticide resistance. This MCD device has been installed in nearly 1900 houses in southern Tanzania.

If you had to pick one challenge which is common to every healthcare system in Europe, what would it be, and what would you like to see happen to address it?

The challenge of developing sustainable and responsive health systems is closely linked to the demographic changes in our society.

The challenge of developing sustainable and responsive health systems is closely linked to the demographic changes in our society. The ageing population creates an ever greater need for better organization of health care, patient empowerment, efficient use of resources and to focus on prevention.

I would like to see a better use of the opportunities provided by the diversity of our European setting, efficient knowledge sharing and implementation across all member states, a collaborative learning mind-set leading to improved health care systems for the benefit of all citizens.

How would the European Commission approach emerging infectious diseases?

We are using a two pronged approach to address the funding of research on emerging infectious diseases – we have the regular funding stream that can cover research in that area, but in addition when a public health emergency occurs such as recently with Ebola and now with Zika, we mobilize funding rapidly to address that emergency.

Also we believe that research to help control these epidemics benefits from coordination internationally. Therefore in 2013 we launched GloPID-R, an initiative that now brings together 23 research funding organizations worldwide and will trigger a rapid research response on a global scale within 48 hours of a significant outbreak of a new or re-emerging infectious disease with pandemic potential.

GLoPID-R

Barbara Kerstiëns recently spoke at the Health Europe conference on the 25th May – for her full presentation and slides please see www.healtheurope.eu

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