Q and A with Gregory Juszczyk, Director-General of the National Institute of Public Health in Poland

February 2018


Dr. Gregory Juszczyk is the Director-General of the National Institute of Public Health and National Institute of Hygiene -- NIPH-NIH in Poland, assuming this role in October 2017. Dr. Juszczyk is a dedicated public health specialist who has worked as a researcher at the Department of Public Health at the Medical University of Warsaw in Poland. His research interests are related to the health of the working age-populations and interventions that increase quality of life. We talked with Dr. Juszcyk to learn more about his goals for NIPH and some of the unique public health challenges affecting the people of Poland.

What are the biggest public health challenges for the National Institute of Public Health, Poland?

[GJ:] National Institute of Public Health (NIPH) is celebrating its anniversary in 2018. NIPH has made outstanding progress in supporting control of infectious diseases in the 20th century, and in addressing modern challenges related to non-communicable diseases. This Institute has played a key role in providing information and evidence-based recommendations to policymakers. As an independent body, NIPH has also consumer trust by issuing quality and safety certificates for a variety of products distributed in Poland. 

In the last few years, the role of scientific institutes in Poland has been steadily redefined, and the security of stable and predictable funding by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science was replaced by incentives for competitive fundraising. NIPH has immediately followed this path and proved its effectiveness, but such a model has deteriorated funding of fundamental support of public institutions. Therefore, in the future, our biggest challenge is to secure predictable and stable funding to focus our attention on scientific and advisory activities with project-based funding.

Moreover, we try to obtain access to data stored by many public institutions, like National Health Fund, Social Insurance Institution, Central Statistical Office to have a broader perspective of health needs and to monitor health inequalities.

What changes have you made since becoming the Director of NIPH?

[GJ:] The first thing we did was integrate the organizational structure of NIPH by merging small research units into larger departments. The goal was to boost collaboration within research teams, effective use of equipment, and allow us to address all essential public health operations (EPHOs). As a result, the Institute will eventually have two large Divisions: Epidemiological and Environmental Safety, and the Analysis and Strategies in Public Health each with 15 departments responsible for a specific task. Additionally, we will integrate all supportive administrative units to help scientists who are searching and applying for grants.

I am happy to announce we have launched the project to train public health specialists. We have partnered with the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER), the World Health Organization (WHO), and universities in the area that teach the core functions needed to protect the public’s health. Together, with representatives of policymakers and employers, we will develop a unified set of competencies of public health professionals that will define their role more clearly in Poland's public health system.

How are you prioritizing the public health issues affecting Poland?

[GJ:] Poland has the typical epidemiological patterns of countries in the European region, with the majority of mortality attributed to non-communicable diseases, like cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and injuries. We have done well controlling infectious diseases in Poland, with a long tradition of mandatory vaccination program funded by the state. Unfortunately, anti-vaccine movements are actively growing, which have resulted in a number of parents who refrain from vaccinating their children. Statistics show that number is approximately 2,400 in 2010 to 23,000 in 2016. To reverse this trend and provide education, our Institute offers information on the benefits of vaccines on our public-funded website.

According to the recent summary of the status of health in Poland (published by the European Union (EU), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and WHO), we have serious health inequalities we need to tackle. In Poland, women live eight years longer than men and the gap between those with the lowest and highest education levels is ten years. It is estimated that about a third of the total burden of disease can be attributed to behavioral risk factors. The most important are alcohol consumption (which is increasing among adults), obesity, and physical inactivity. Polish people are about 60% more likely to die from a circulatory disease than the average EU resident. We need to be more effective in diagnosing hypertension to increase compliance with therapy. Similar situations regarding screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer are also very important for NIPH because early detection rates are still too low to save lives. 

Therefore, my main focus for the next two years (through 2020) is to stimulate and coordinate the cooperation between different public authorities, sanitary inspection, local governments, and NGOs that are engaged in health promotion and disease prevention. We need to set up a long-term and evidence-based system of recommended initiatives with regular evaluation. To that end, we are launching a project to create a digital national database for health policy programs. 

How do you think the IANPHI network can support your activities?

[GJ:] Cooperation with the IANPHI Members is the greatest opportunity we have to share experiences and to learn from each other. Tackling health care problems requires local approaches, but good practices usually allow Institutes to quickly design activities that are likely to be effective where we work, as well as in other contexts. And because NPHIs count on cooperation in international research projects, this network is an irreplaceable opportunity to develop research skills and share results from Poland and with colleagues in other countries.

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