• Education

The power of leadership to strengthen health systems

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The second edition of the "WHO European Public Health Leadership Course" will take place from 13 to 24 November 2023 in Bordeaux. Geneviève Chêne, Professor of Public Health at the University of Bordeaux and co-director of this programme with Joao Breda from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, explains.

Photo : Joao Breda, Sylvie Justome, Geneviève Chêne, Simone Mathoulin-Pélissier, Ilaria Montagni, Mili Spahic *
Joao Breda, Sylvie Justome, Geneviève Chêne, Simone Mathoulin-Pélissier, Ilaria Montagni, Mili Spahic *

Co-developed this year by the WHO Regional Office for Europe and the School of Public Health (Isped) at the University of Bordeaux, this unique course will bring together internationally renowned experts in the fields of public health, leadership and innovation

What do you mean by "leadership in public health"?

GC : The aim of public health is to protect and improve the health of populations. All leaders who aspire to set an example - whatever their field - share the ability to chart a clear and determined course towards a desirable and realistic future. The next generation of public health professionals will face increasingly complex challenges: managing and, if possible, averting health crises, anticipating the emergence of disease, promoting healthy environments, communicating transparently, influencing healthy policies, and much more. To meet these major challenges, future decision-makers need solid leadership skills. This is why it is crucial to train them to act for transformation, while respecting the values and diversity of the cultures of the populations served and the professionals involved, and basing their decisions on the best available scientific data.

The first edition of the "European Public Health Leadership Course" was held in Rome in 2022. It was designed in collaboration with the Istituto Superiore di Sanita (Italian National Institute of Health). How did this project come about?

GC : The Covid19 pandemic mobilised all the front-line players, especially healthcare professionals, in an exceptional way, while exposing the fragility of healthcare systems around the world. The lack of strong leaders in public health has become evident, making it necessary to strengthen their skills to deal with future health crises. The WHO Strategic Plan 2020-2025 for the European Region highlights the urgent need to strengthen public health leadership training. This programme aims to harmonise actions to improve health in Europe and avoid exclusion. This course has been designed to support these crucial objectives.

Why Bordeaux and the Institut de Santé Publique, d'Epidémiologie et de Développement (Isped) for this second edition?

GC : The first edition was a great success. This intensive programme will now be rolled out in several European cities. For this second year, the WHO has chosen Isped and the Bordeaux public health community because of its international reputation. In fact, the excellence of the training provided by the Institute is combined in an exceptional way with research and effective practical application, particularly in health establishments.

For this course, Isped is therefore working closely with the "Digital Public Health" graduate programme and the Inserm research centre Bordeaux Population Health, structures that stand out for their very rich teaching expertise, their network of leading international experts and their agility in integrating teaching innovations. The pedagogical design of the course also benefited from a very fruitful collaboration with the Care and Public Health Research Institute at Maastricht University (Netherlands).

What's more, our reputation as a strategic and historic partner with the African continent is a major asset. That's why this year we are broadening our horizons by opening up this European course to young professionals from over 30 countries in Europe and Africa. It's a unique opportunity for mutual enrichment and collaboration for the future development of this course.


What's the 'little extra' in welcoming you to Bordeaux?

GC : A considerable asset! Bordeaux is celebrated for its dynamism, its rich cultural heritage, its exceptional gastronomy and the quality of its hospitality. What's more, the city is a member of the WHO's European Healthy Cities network, and is deeply committed to working alongside the Nouvelle Aquitaine region to promote the three dimensions of health (human, animal and eco-system). All participants, whether speakers or listeners, will have the opportunity to enjoy a memorable experience in every respect. In addition to the training sessions, we have planned cultural and team-building activities to encourage interaction between participants. Our aim is to help them build an international network of public health leaders. We want to welcome them with all the friendliness and warmth of our city's tradition.

WHO-Isped European public health leadership course

  • 13 to 24 November 2023, Bordeaux France

  • Theme: « Transformative leadership in public health»


Around fifty people attended, including managers or decision-makers from public health structures appointed by the governments of some thirty countries in the WHO's Europe and Africa regions, as well as young public health professionals who were former students at Isped.


Some forty world-renowned experts from the academic world and the WHO. They include Sandro Galéa, Dean of the School of Public Health at Boston University (USA), Jarno Habicht, WHO representative in Ukraine, Kasia Czabanowska, Professor of Public Health Leadership at Maastricht University (Netherlands), Zac Kohane, Professor of Medical Bioinformatics at Harvard University, Tom Frieden, former Director of the US CDC, Tracey Cooper, Chief Executive of Public Health Wales, Duncan Selbie, President of the International Network of National Public Health Agencies.

The Director General of Health, Dr Grégory Emery, will honour us with his presence at the graduation ceremony.

Objectives for the 2023 session

To strengthen the skills of future leaders to catalyse transformation by making decisions based on the best available data for health policies, cultivating their systems thinking, stimulating collaborative leadership, perfecting their communication skills, developing their emotional intelligence, mastering the art and management of change while maintaining irreproachable professional ethics.

Public health areas covered

Equity and social determinants, conflict-related crises and misinformation, sustainable food production systems, digital innovations and evaluation, mental health, ageing, chronic diseases, health in all policies

Teaching approach

Active learning, short lectures, round tables, problem-solving learning, role-playing, case studies, team-building workshops.

Week 1: online courses in the afternoon.

Week 2: face-to-face at Isped, Carreire campus, University of Bordeaux.

Three questions to Joao Breda

Dr. João Breda, Head, WHO Athens Quality of Care and Patient Safety Office & Special Adviser for the Regional Director│ Division of Country Health Policies and Systems

Why did the WHO choose ISPED and the University of Bordeaux to organize this course?

JB : ISPED and the University of Bordeaux have a longstanding history in public health, marked by significant research and innovations. Amongst numerous esteemed universities, ISPED stands out as an ideal partner for one fundamental reason: Its dedication to training the public health professionals of tomorrow. This commitment aligns perfectly with the primary goal of WHO/Europe in this course, to support member states in their efforts to strengthen their public health leadership capacities.

What are your thoughts on this year's theme (Transformational Leadership)?

JB : In the midst of a permacrisis, which demands immediate attention, the growing complexity of global public health challenges necessitates that public health professionals possess the ability to identify risks across all facets of human activity. To prevent health crises, curb disease spread, and mitigate their impact, they must also excel in effectively communicating public health concepts, influencing populations, motivating policymakers, stimulating peers, and engaging stakeholders from various sectors.

To achieve these objectives, professionals must develop leadership competencies through an ongoing process of learning, collaboration, self-reflection, and comprehensive personal and professional growth. This approach enables public health leaders to be evidence-based, value-oriented, collaborative, accountable, transparent, visible, and capable of fostering trust among the public, policymakers, peers, organizations, and authorities. Consequently, the need for Transformational Leadership has never been more pressing.

How do you feel about the opportunity to open this course to African countries?

JB : This represents a remarkable opportunity, and I am confident it will generate significant results. In 2022, the WHO Athens Office on Quality of Care and Patient Safety collaborated with the Italian National Institute of Health (ISS) to co-create the first-ever European Public Health Leadership Course and now this year to enlarge our collaboration with French colleagues and Bordeaux Public Health School. The primary objective of this program was to enhance the leadership skills of public health professionals from Member States within the WHO European Region. Now, under the leadership of our Regional Director Dr Hans Kluge, the time has come to extend this knowledge beyond the WHO European Region and invite African nations to join us in our mission to nurture the public health leaders of tomorrow.

* On the picture, from left to right: Joao Breda, Head of the Office for Quality of Care and Patient Safety and Special Adviser to the WHO Regional Office for Europe; co-leader of the course for WHO Europe, Sylvie Justome, Deputy Mayor of Bordeaux, responsible for health and safety, Geneviève Chêne, Professor of Public Health at Isped, co-leader of the course for Isped - University of Bordeaux, Simone Mathoulin-Pélissier, Director of Isped, Ilaria Montagni, Digital Public Health Graduate Program (DPH), Mili Spahic, programme coordinator.