Columns from our contractors VWS and NWO

How do our contractors, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) and the Dutch Research Council (NWO) view the future? How do they see the collaboration developing further? And which steps can we jointly take in the area of lifestyle, working conditions and living environment?

'The combination of knowledge fields can help us progress' - Angelique Berg (VWS)

For many years, low-skilled people with little income have experienced high health inequalities. This is a persistent problem throughout Western Europe. Foresight studies from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) reveal that this will not change in the Netherlands in the coming years. Indeed, the health gap will only become bigger. I refer to it as 'an untameable problem'. It is unpalatable that a wealthy country such as the Netherlands has not been able to come to grips with this problem.

In the government's national prevention agreement, there are specific measures to combat obesity, smoking and alcohol abuse. That is what we will continue to focus on in the coming years. Furthermore, in May 2020, the national memorandum health policy was published: a coproduction between municipalities and the central government. This also states that combating health inequalities is one of the most important themes for the coming term of the government and municipal councils.

In this national memorandum health policy, the importance of the design of the living environment is also emphasised. A lot can be gained in neighbourhoods where many people with a low income live, for example, with green parks where you can walk, cycle and exercise. Another important factor is working conditions. Usually, people with low incomes do not have the lightest physical work. And also not the cleanest. All these factors combine to make their lives doubly hard.

For such an untameable problem, I think that, in particular, the combination of knowledge fields pertaining to lifestyle, living environment and working conditions can help us progress. ZonMw plays an important role in these. After all, it is ZonMw that ensures that the initiatives in our policy area are deployed in a scientifically responsible manner. Therefore, I challenge ZonMw to combine these knowledge fields in future research projects.

ZonMw always keeps abreast of policy directions. I am therefore hopeful as far as that is concerned. However, there is a large group of people that experiences health inequality: about 20 percent of the Dutch population. Major steps are therefore needed to realise a good health for everybody. Let us take those steps together; in terms of lifestyle, living environment and working conditions.

Angelique Berg, Director-General Public Health at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport

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Health research of the future - Stan Gielen (NWO)

Unfortunately, the COVID crisis made it impossible to organise a symposium on 30 June 2020 to mark the presentation of the ZonMw policy plan 2020-2024. The COVID crisis did, nevertheless, make it dramatically clear why medical research is so important, not just for the health and well-being of the Netherlands but also for the Dutch economy. This all the more illustrates the important role ZonMw plays in Dutch society.

The policy plan 2020-2024 describes how ZonMw fulfils its role as a funder of health research and care innovation with its three core activities (Programming and funding, Encouraging impact and Identifying) that contribute to the good health of all citizens. In ZonMw's vision, the improvement of care and health requires two important constituents: knowledge and the actual use of that knowledge. ZonMw has a very strong track record in translating knowledge to practice together with all parties in the knowledge chain and with the users of that knowledge. This has been made very apparent in each of the programmes of the policy plan. With that, ZonMw connects fundamental research with applied and practice-oriented research and shows how applied research and healthcare can guide fundamental research and vice versa. All too often, fundamental and applied research are discussed as if they were each other's opposites. That has a polarising effect and is completely unnecessary: applied research without accompanying fundamental research will not survive for long. Fundamental research in its turn can scarcely prove effective if the results from it are not applied in practice.

As an important contractor and funder of ZonMw, I would have been interested to read in the policy plan how ZonMw will realise the NWO ambition to encourage multidisciplinary and domain-overarching research together with the other research domains of NWO. For health research, in particular, this is a fantastic challenge for the future, which I would like to jointly tackle with ZonMw.

Stan Gielen, President Executive Board - NWO

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