HealthManagement, Volume 4 - Issue 2 , 2010

The European Commission has announced a new action plan to tackle the debilitating impact of the financial crisis, which it says in a new document, has “wiped out years of economic and social progress and exposed structural weaknesses in Europe's economy”. To achieve a sustainable future, the recently launched Digital Agenda action plan outlines key areas of deficiency in Europe’s ability to deliver electronic services within its borders, including online healthcare delivery. It makes proposals for actions that need to be taken urgently to get Europe on track for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Its proposals aim to set the scene for longer-term transformations that the increasingly digital economy and society will bring about.


Europe 2020 Strategy

The European Commission launched the Europe 2020 Strategy to exit the crisis and prepare the EU economy for the challenges of the next decade, in March this year. Europe 2020 sets out a vision to achieve high levels of employment, a low carbon economy, productivity and social cohesion, to be implemented through concrete actions at EU and national levels. This battle for growth and jobs requires ownership at top political level and mobilisation from all actors across Europe.


The Digital Agenda for Europe is one of the seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, set out to define the key role that the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) will have to play if Europe wants to succeed in its ambitions for 2020.


Maximise Potential of ICT

The objective of this agenda is to chart a course to maximise the social and economic potential of ICT, most notably the internet, a vital medium of economic and societal activity: for doing business, working, playing, communicating and expressing ourselves freely. Successful delivery of this agenda will spur innovation, economic growth and improvements in daily life for both citizens and businesses. Wider deployment and more effective use of digital technologies will thus enable Europe to address its key challenges and will provide Europeans with a better quality of life through, for example, better health care, safer and more efficient transport solutions, cleaner environment, new media opportunities and easier access to public services and cultural content.


The ICT sector is directly responsible for five percent of European GDP, with a market value of 660 billion euros annually, but it contributes far more to overall productivity growth (20 percent directly from the ICT sector and 30 percent from ICT investments). This is because of the high levels of dynamism and innovation inherent in the sector, and the enabling role the sector plays in changing how other sectors do business.


This flow of activity requires a business environment that fosters investments and entrepreneurship. But while the transformational power of ICT is clear, serious challenges must also be confronted in order to harness it. Although a digital way of life is emerging for many European citizens, on the basis of technology which declares its “worldwide”, borderless reach, they cannot accept that a single market designed before the internet is marred by privacy and security concerns, by insufficient internet access, insufficient usability, by lack of relevant skills or by lack of accessibility for all.


Seven Key Areas to Tackle

Based on consultation with stakeholders and on insights contained in both the Granada Declaration and the European Parliament Resolution, the Commission has identified the seven most significant obstacles. On their own or in combination, these obstacles seriously undermineefforts to exploit ICT, making clear theneed for a comprehensive and united policyresponse at the European level. Theyshow that Europe is lagging behind its industrialpartners.


Fragmented Digital Markets

Europe is still a patchwork of national online markets, and Europeans are prevented by solvable problems from enjoying the benefits of a digital single market. Commercial and cultural content and services need to flow across borders; this should be achieved by eliminating regulatory barriers and facilitating electronic payments and invoicing, dispute resolution and customer trust. More can and must be done under the current regulatory framework to weave a single market in the telecoms sector.


Lack of Interoperability

Europe does not yet reap the maximum benefit from interoperability. Weaknesses in standard-setting, public procurement and coordination between public authorities prevent digital services and devices used by Europeans from working together as well as they should. The Digital Agenda can only take off if its different parts and applications are interoperable and based on standards and open platforms.


Rising Cybercrime and Risk of Low Trust in Networks

Europeans will not engage in ever more sophisticated online activities, unless they feel that they, or their children, can fully rely upon their networks. Europe must therefore address the rise of new forms of crime – "cybercrime" - ranging from child abuse to identity theft and cyber-attacks, and develop responsive mechanisms. In parallel, the multiplication of databases and new technologies allowing remote control of individuals raise new challenges to the protection of Europeans' fundamental rights to personal data and privacy. The internet has now become such a critical information infrastructure for individuals as much as for the European economy at large, that our IT systems and networks must be made resilient and secure to all sort of new threats.


Lack of Investment in Networks

More needs to be done to ensure the rollout and take-up of broadband for all, at increasing speeds, through both fixed and wireless technologies, and to facilitate investment in the new very fast open and competitive internet networks that will be the arteries of a future economy. Our action needs to be focused on providing the right incentives to stimulate private investment, complemented by carefully targeted public investments, without re-monopolising our networks, as well as improving spectrum allocation.


Insufficient Research and Innovation Efforts

Europe continues to under-invest, fragment its efforts, under-use the creativity of SMEs and fail to convert the intellectual advantage of research into the competitive advantage of market-based innovations. We need to build on the talent of our researchers to deliver an innovation ecosystem where European based ICT companies of all sizes can develop world-class products that will generate demand. We therefore need to address the suboptimal character of current research and innovation efforts by leveraging more private investment, better coordinating and pooling of resources, ‘lighter and faster’ access of digital SMEs to Union research funds, joint research infrastructures and innovation clusters and the development of standards and open platforms for new applications and services.


Lack of Digital Literacy and Skills

Europe is suffering from a growing professional ICT skills shortage and a digital literacy deficit. These failings are excluding many citizens from the digital society and economy and are holding back the large multiplier effect of ICT take-up to productivity growth. This requires a coordinated reaction, with Member States and other stakeholders at its centre.


Missed Opportunities in Addressing Societal Challenges

By harnessing the full potential of ICT, Europe could much better address some of its most acute societal challenges: climate change and other pressures on our environment, an ageing population and rising health costs, developing more efficient public services and integrating people with disabilities, digitising Europe's cultural heritage and making it available to this and future generations, etc.


Sustained Commitment Required

The Digital Agenda for Europe frames its key actions around the need to systematically tackle these seven problem areas. The Commission will remain vigilant for the emergence of additional obstacles and will react accordingly. The Digital Agenda will require a sustained level of commitment at both EU and Member State levels (including at regional level). It cannot succeed without a major contribution by other stakeholders, including young “digital natives” who have much to teach us. This Agenda is a snapshot of actual and foreseeable problems and opportunities, and will evolve in the light of experience and of the rapid changes in technology and society.


Eu Project Hands Out Prizes for Top PhDs

Stronger resistance to drugs and increased tourism which puts people at greater risk of acquiring local diseases are just a couple of factors that play havoc on public health worldwide, and humans are under the constant threat of infections with pathogenic microorganisms. Enter the ERA-NET PATHOGENOMICS ('Trans-European cooperation and coordination of genome sequencing and functional genomics of human- pathogenic microorganisms') project, an initiative of the EU targeting more advanced transnational genome-based research programmes on human-pathogenic microorganisms.


ERA-NET PATHOGENOMICS recently announced the winners of the PhD Award 2010 for the most outstanding doctoral theses in this field.


The winners, Dr Itay Tirosh from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, Dr Andreja Kovac from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, and Dr Cristina Latasa from the Public University of Navarra in Spain, were awarded 2,000 euros each. Dr Tirosh received the award for shedding light on the evolution of gene expression regulation on a genome-wide scale, while Dr Kovac picked up a prize for searching for and finding compounds that could be used in new antibiotic drug treatments. Dr Latasa was commended for investigating biofilm formation in Salmonella, a pathogen that triggers food poisoning.


The PhD Award Ceremony held in Pecs, Hungary in April, is an annual event jointly funded by all partners in the ERA-NET project. “This year we evaluated eight candidate theses, recommended by the ERANET partner national R&D funding bodies, all of which presented high quality and innovative science,” explained Dr Marion Karrasch-Bott from Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany, who is also the coordinator of ERA-NET PATHOGENOMICS. “The winners were chosen based on excellence in scientific quality and impact of the work, quality of publications and the theoretical approach underlying the research.”


Infections with pathogenic microorganisms are responsible for the deaths of many people worldwide. However, despite growing levels of resistance to drugs, advanced functional genomics technologies have enabled researchers to systematically identify pathogenesis-related genes. In so doing, scientists have identified new targets for diagnostics, therapeutics and prevention.


Launched in 2004 and scheduled to end in 2012, ERA-NET PATHOGENOMICS seeks to establish sustained cooperation between national funding bodies and to coordinate their genome-based research programmes on human-pathogenic microorganisms. The ERA-NET is funded to the tune of EUR 3 million under the ERANET Scheme of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). As well as improving the transparency and coherence of national research programmes, the project team is working to create an internal market for pathogenomics with information exchanges, and to define a European research and training agenda on pathogenomics as part of a European research policy.


Besides Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH (FZJ), the ERA-NET PATHOGENOMICS consortium is made up of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research, the Austrian Science Fund, the Academy of Finland, the Institut Pasteur and the National Agency for Research, both in France, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany, the Hungarian Academy of Science, the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund, the Israeli Chief Scientist Office, the Ministry of Health and the Science and Technology Foundation in Portugal, Slovenia's Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, and Spain's Ministry of Science and Innovation.


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New Report Details Fight on European Obesity

A new report from EuroHealthNet, a European network that consists of regional and national agencies responsible and accountable for health promotion, public health and disease prevention in Europe, has been produced to demonstrate the link between health inequalities and rising rates of obesity, and how existing measures to tackle the condition might be able to take this into account. The document details nearly 100 project descriptions running in 28 different countries, from the international level to local community initiatives. It also provides some overview with local data, of the extent of obesity and its impact on health services.


The report is compiled with the aim of producing an accessible source of ideas and inspiration for practitioners and policy makers about counteracting obesity and improving health equity and is funded under the Equity Channel special project of EuroHealthNet, part of the International Collaboration on Social Determinants of Health, initiated by the Department of Health for England. The report:

• Describes innovative approaches and promising practices to reduce obesity by health promoting bodies at local, regional, national, European and international level;

• Is an identification of work where the initiatives address different socio- economic groups with a specific focus on lower socio-economic communities, and therefore contribute to reducing health inequalities;

• And is an update of the 2006 summary of action collated by EuroHealthNet


Lifestyle choices regarding nutrition and physical activity are the most proximal determinants of overweight and obesity. However, while predominantly concerned with nutrition and physical activity initiatives, the remit of the report was to include any possibly relevant interventions that counteract obesity. While the report mainly focuses on obesity prevention initiatives targeting different socio-economic groups in Europe, it also describes projects implemented at the international level.


As various people involved in obesity prevention projects outside the EU had expressed their interest in the document after its first publication in July 2009, they were invited to make a contribution as well. The international project descriptions can be used to further stimulate debate, to provide new ideas, and to highlight interesting approaches implemented overseas.


A framework document, including specific questions related to counteracting obesity among vulnerable groups and details of the project’s methodology, was developed and sent to interested parties in and outside Europe. In total 97 relevant descriptions of innovative approaches were submitted, running in twenty-four different countries in Europe and four countries outside the EU. The practices described are implemented at either International, European, national, regional or local level. Most interventions found are community-based approaches that are active at the regional or local level.

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