EHEN annual meeting in Leuven

The annual meeting of EHEN (European Human Exposome Network) took place in Leuven 30th of May – the 1st of June. Over a hundred members of nine EHEN projects had an opportunity to communicate, network, and disseminate their research. Thank you for your work all organizing team members! It was great that online attending was enabled too! 

We had seven HEDIMED members from five partners onsite in Leuven. Additionally, we had two representatives online presenting their research. Thank you all for your contribution!

Jaroslav Havlik (the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague, Department of Food Science) presenting his research results. Heikki Hyöty and Olli Laitinen as a chair and a co-chair.

Introduction of HEDIMED toolboxes: Apostolia Karabatea from Gnomon informatics has been leading the public toolbox development. Juha Pajula from VTT presented the HEDIMED research platform concept.

As always, a face-to-face meeting was a great and important chance to socialize and got to know each other better – something you cannot reach in online meetings. After the scientific section, there was time for more informal networking. A nice rooftop party was arranged, and the attendees could also enjoy the beautiful scenery of Leuven. 

The meeting enabled also our Project Coordinator Heikki Hyöty and the Project Officer Nerea Aizpurua to meet and discuss.
HEDIMED representatives at the evening party. From the left: Eliška Jeníčková, Apostolia Karabatea, Juha Pajula, Olli Laitinen, Jaroslav Havlik, Alar Aints and Heikki Hyöty

The stakeholder event

To get scientific knowledge visible and into action in societies, and people’s everyday life, we need to communicate with multiple stakeholders. In the Leuven meeting, there was organized a stakeholder event: Exposome research: Understanding and Addressing Policy Challenges on the 1st of June. The main target stakeholders were policymakers in many levels of decision making and there were quite many of them joining the meeting.  

What's going on in the field of ENVIRONMENTAL health in THE EU

After an informative overview of exposome research by Peter Hoet from EXIMIOUS, we heard interesting and holistically oriented presentations. Rita Araujo told us about the goals and expectations in the European Commission’s exposome context. Rita presented the European Green deal which has a major impact also to many levels of the exposome affecting citizen’s health. It’s closely related to occupational health and safety, urban health, and public health policies. All in all, we could see, there is a huge amount of environmental health -related activity in progress! 

Sinaia Netanyahu from the WHO European Centre of Environment and Health presented which challenges there is in tackling health at the global level. It could be said that there are highly shared priorities at the EU and WHO. Climate change together with biodiversity loss and environmental pollution is a complex phenomenon and all of those are affecting health, and also each other in many ways. There is a lot of work to address all the health dimensions in this triple environmental crisis and to protect and promote human, animal, and environmental health at the same time. Multisectoral cooperation as well in policy as in research is vital! You can get familiar with WHO’s work in Europe here: European Environment and Health Process (EHP) (who. int)  

At last, we heard about the ambitious goals of the Zero Pollution Action Plan in the context of citizens’ health, presented by Lorena Korose. The plan is closely related to the European green deal as well. Looking forward to the plan coming to action and to seeing the results!! 



In the next session, participants were filling quick polls about how the cooperation between scientific actors and policymakers has been working and what are the challenges. Most of the policymakers seemed to have at least some collaboration with scientific researchers, but there were also few with no scientific contacts. The audience (about 70 persons) voted that limited opportunities for regular interactions and knowledge exchange and differences in priorities and timelines were the top two factors hindering the collaborations. And this inadequate communication between researchers and policymakers was seen onwards as the main barrier in translating research findings into policy actionable policies and programs. Additionally, the complexity of the research findings and political considerations were voted as considerable challenges.  

There were some suggestions to solve these problems. One of the most popular solutions was engaging policymakers in research design and development of research questions. On the other hand, policymakers (about 30 persons) chose scientific papers, policy briefs, and guidelines such as toolboxes as the most relevant research outputs in policy development.  

You can watch the record of the whole event from youtube: Exposome Research: Understanding and Addressing Policy Challenges – YouTube. 


what next?

In the final discussion, there was agreement about the importance of dialogue between scientists and policymakers and that there is an urgent need for more close cooperation. Even though all the presentations at the event were highly oriented to improving the environmental health of the people and the well-being of the environment, there is still a long journey to reach all the set objectives. In the audience, there was demand for concrete actions and also worries, that all this discussion and willingness to cooperate more doesn’t turn into everyday practice. As we know, there are a lot of other interests too other than health and environment, competing the resources at the decision-making level. So, it really needs some effort to develop more science-based policies! 

Next year it’s our turn to plan and organize the annual meeting with @H2020Remedia and @EphorEu95393. We’ll do our best to answer those challenges raised now. We want to make our part in bringing scientific knowledge into political decision-making and the everyday life of the people. Looking forward to that! 

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