Lively discussions about the impact of housing and innovation on health, plus a high-level debate on the EU's future, are among this week's notable events, along with a well-spent afternoon stuck on a stationary EurostarSunday
As usual Sunday was a slow day with good food, friends and family. Took the bikes out for a long cycle ride and lunch on the canal at a little Belgian pub that doesn't appear to have changed since the Middle Ages, and feels like it is at the end of the world. Grateful that Flanders is so flat when spending six hours cycling with a squirming toddler in the baby seat on the bike. Early bedtime for the children and a preparation of the week ahead, including making sure domestic essentials are all in place, as the week never leaves much room for simple things such as having enough food in the house, or clean clothes ready.
Monday is always a slow start as the family adjusts to the week, as does the office. Weekdays are always early because getting four people out of the house, one into the crèche, one to school and then commuting to Brussels from Flanders is half a day's work already. As always, used the train journey to catch up with the news and plan the day, and used the day itself for internal meetings and matters. Regular briefings with the policy team on strategy and priorities are essential given how quickly the political debate moves on in Brussels. A high level dinner in the evening, organised by one of the Brussels think-tanks, with a lively debate about innovation and health. Experienced the first example of sexism – or possibly ageism – I have had for some time, when a distinguished but elderly Brussels heavyweight took me to one side and informed me that I obviously don't understand the issue. I bristled, recovered and calmly explained, at which the person in question conceded the point – but still, I left feeling a little bemused.
Spent the morning debating the same subject at the same think-tank. Innovation in health is a challenging subject, and it's crucial we create the conditions for innovation and not just the conditions to maintain the status quo. Innovation requires failure, and so the room to fail as well as a high tolerance of risk. Large institutions do not do this very well, so the European Union research and innovation policy's ability to foster the small, youthful organisations that can bring real innovation, as well the community level social innovation that is less glamorous but can make huge differences to both individuals and budgets is a real test of its 'fit for purpose' rhetoric. Following an afternoon of planning for our work in 2013 and preparing my presentation on health and housing, I was able to head home and spend some time solving a particularly tricky Bob the Builder puzzle, before an evening of Game of Thrones
Spent the morning with CECODHAS members, discussing the impact of housing on health. Was surprised and impressed that they represent 12.5 per cent of Europe's managed housing stock – that's a lot of potential for better health outcomes. Housing is one of the most important health determinants, with children from cold homes doing worse at school and overall suffering inequalities. Well planned and insulated housing with good public transport including cycling and walking routes are vital for healthy communities, and simple green spaces visible through a window go some way to improve mental health.
Was impressed by an Irish project which brought health, housing and art into one space to improve the lives of the elderly in its community. Lunch was with a senior colleague from the e-health world – and spent most of it trying to convince him to join Twitter. I succeeded. In the afternoon, I had the privilege of attending the high level meeting of foreign ministers, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding on the future of the EU. Following a lively exchange of views – where the non-governmental organisations present were obviously concerned about the need to bring the citizen's back into the debate – Van Rompuy quietly took control of a room with emotions running high and brought us back to a constructive forward looking dialogue.
After an early start in the office and a conference call with the chairperson of the European Public Health and Agriculture Consortium, I headed to London for the Economist
summit on healthcare. My plans were thwarted by a burning train that hurtled past our Eurostar as we sat waiting to enter the Channel Tunnel. The blaze was fierce and led to us sitting at an angle outside the tunnel while it was made safe, for the whole afternoon. The mood was cheerful and collegial, which helped – there's nothing like a shared frustration to bring a train full of strangers together – but I managed to miss the whole day of the conference, and took a train straight to my mother's for good food, fussing and a decent night of uninterrupted sleep.
Headed into central London for the Economist
summit, and marvelled at one of those perfect days where London looks freshly washed and full of opportunities. I obviously wasn't travelling by Tube. Shared a stage with the chief executive of WeightWatchers, the president of the African Medical Union and the director of the World Prevention Institute for a passionate debate that included the linked challenges of obesity and climate change – how they are both symptoms of the same imbalance between consumption and available resources. It is almost unbelievable that one billion people globally go to bed hungry, whereas 1.4 billion are overweight. I challenge any parent to try for one day to protect his or her children from the onslaught of marketing of alcohol, junk food or just plain junk.
Was challenged by the moderator, who unexpectedly suggested I was propagating a return to communism. It's not about returning to any idealised model or a state controlled economy – it's about creating the checks and balances within our current system in order for us to be able to prevent as many as we can of the modern preventable diseases such as cardio-vascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, so that we can spend our limited budgets on those diseases that we cannot prevent.
I don't normally work on Saturdays, but headed into Brussels to the Bozar for the annual conference of Culture Action Europe, to speak about equity, health and culture. The audience was fantastic – the room was packed with leading individuals from the arts from across the EU and accession countries. Coming from a family where I am an exception by not being in the arts sector, I spent a bit of time reflecting as to why I chose politics and health, when art or music would have been a more obvious choice. Decided life has room for all of the above. Too often we separate the sectors, insist on measuring and working in silos. The reality is that we cannot: you cannot separate education, employment, transport, culture, art, food or environment from health. They feed and reinforce each other, together become greater than the sum of their parts. I left the debate happy in the knowledge that we are at the beginning of a coming-together of at least two of those sectors, and hopeful that this is a start of a breakdown in the artificial policy silos that we have created.Monika Kosinska is secretary general of the European Public Health Alliance