A healthier border region. The health-i-care project partners are working on this every day. The project focuses on the development of innovative products and technologies that protect the population from infections, in particular from infections caused by antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms. During the project, 30 successful innovations have been completed, some of which have already been brought to the market. The innovations are mainly used in health care facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, laboratories or public health offices. Prevention is often not immediately visible and therefore the innovations sometimes seem to be somewhat hidden from the public. However, they are urgently needed to prevent the occurrence of health risks and protect us from serious infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Project leader Prof. Dr. Alex Friedrich and project coordinator Dr. Corinna Glasner from the University Hospital Groningen (UMCG) spoke in an interview about what the INTERREG programme enables them to do and why this project is so important.
What made INTERREG possible for the health sector?
Prof. Dr. Alex Friedrich: For me, INTERREG is primarily an instrument for cross-border cooperation. Health care in Europe is strongly organised on a national level, while infectious diseases do not stop at national borders. This is why the EU Treaty of Lisbon also wants to ensure that care and facilities in border regions are interwoven and that cross-border risks such as infectious diseases are jointly combated. INTERREG also offers the opportunity to actively participate in these cooperation projects in the health sector and to build up networks. In addition, INTERREG enables us to use cross-border infrastructures. The benefits of this have also become clear recently when Dutch patients with COVID-19 received help in German intensive care units, especially just across the border. This would not have been possible if the relationship of trust between the Dutch and German health institutions had not yet been sufficiently established.
Dr. Corinna Glasner: As Alex said, there are treaties such as the Lisbon Treaty, which contain decisions that officially enable cross-border cooperation in the health sector. However, one can see that unfortunately it is often not so easy to put this into practice. The added value of INTERREG is that this programme offers the possibility to actually address and implement such cooperation. INTERREG makes cross-border cooperation tangible and applicable. INTERREG enables cooperation across borders.
What does INTERREG mean for you personally?
Prof. Dr. Alex Friedrich: Through INTERREG I have experienced my own personal INTERREG adventure. I used to be a project manager at Münster University Hospital, now I am a project manager at the UMCG. Without INTERREG this would not have happened without further ado. INTERREG encouraged me to also look at my neighbours on the other side of the border, which opened new doors for me.
Dr. Corinna Glasner: I am German and grew up in the border region. I came to Groningen for my studies and now, after several small adventures abroad, I have been living actively in and with our border region for 4 years thanks to INTERREG. For me, our border region has really become a region in its own right and Germany and the Netherlands are, in my view, no longer regarded so much as separate regions. I have really found my place here in our border region.
How does the health i-care project contribute to a healthier border region in the Netherlands and Germany?
Prof. Dr. Alex Friedrich: With health-i-care, we have managed to cross not only the national border between the two countries, but above all the border between the sectors (health, science and business), with the common goal of protecting people from infections and antibiotic resistance. We bring people from different sectors together. Knowledge institutions that have the right scientific knowledge internally, companies that can develop medical innovations and bring them to market, and the different fields of work such as hospitals, nursing homes and home care that ultimately have to apply the new developments. It is when these three players come together and think together that you get developments that are really applicable. Successful projects are not just aimed at one sector.
Dr. Corinna Glasner: Learning from each other and working together successfully is important when crossing both borders. And in our case it is also “healthier” – a “healthy border region”. Sometimes we see something in the hospital or at the GP that works very well in Germany, but not in the Netherlands or vice versa. You have to deal with a different culture and different laws, but we always try to combine different aspects of an idea in a new way and then apply them. If something doesn’t work immediately, we try something else and always get new insights. Because of the different dimensions of the health-i-care project, there are also many different ways to achieve the common goal.
The video of the health-i-care project published last August discusses the issue of hand hygiene. Do you notice that this issue has become even more important due to the current corona crisis?
Prof. Dr. Alex Friedrich: Antibiotic resistance is of course also an infection problem, as microorganisms are also transmitted and can lead to infections. Microorganisms can be transmitted via the hands, for example. This means that the innovations we are developing in the field of hand hygiene can also be used to protect people from other infections, certainly also from COVID-19. Working on the prevention of antibiotic resistance is also a preparation for the really big risks. The knowledge, networks and infrastructure that have been built up as a result enable us to protect ourselves better against serious infectious diseases, as is now the case. We can also see that the border region here, where we have been working on antibiotic resistance projects for more than 10 years, has so far been less affected by corona. I think that our work has also partly contributed to this in recent years.
Dr. Corinna Glasner: What I have also observed and what is predicted is that the general flu season should also be shorter than expected because we have paid so much attention to hand hygiene recently. For example, what we have done at health-i-care is to address the issue of hand hygiene by children, because it is best to teach people as early as possible how important hand hygiene is. For example, a hand washing game (HTTPS://WWW.GOVIRALGO.NL/HAN-DE-WASBEER) and teaching materials have been developed to teach children to wash their hands using videos and music, and a soap dispenser for children has also been introduced.
What do you think is the added value of Dutch-German cooperation?
Prof. Dr. Alex Friedrich: In the short term this means linking two systems across borders. They meet each other and connections are created that were not possible before. Through our contacts in Oldenburg, for example, contacts are also established with Hannover and Berlin. Cross-border cooperation is the basis for the development in which new knowledge, ideas, products and innovations in all their forms can be created. The border is actually something very unnatural. In the long term, Europe can only be strengthened through cross-border cooperation. It is about the common homeland of Europe in which we live – and without crossing borders, we all remain small and vulnerable to major economic risks, but also to health risks such as COVID-19, which is currently making it clear.
Dr. Corinna Glasner: The added value for me is that we take advantage of opportunities that are actually very close to us. It has been shown in other areas how more opportunities, more efficient and simply better it is if you have diversity in everything you do. The world is becoming very international, but we must not forget to look closely at our immediate neighbours. We do this in our everyday lives, and it is no different with border neighbours. Here you have the opportunities on your doorstep and therefore also the opportunities offered by an INTERREG programme.
Take a look at the project video here for more information: