Public health conference looks at ‘Picking up the Pieces’ in the aftermath of COVID-19


Public health practitioners and researchers have gathered virtually today for the annual cross-border Joint Public Health Conference, which this year is examining how COVID-19 has affected the lives of citizens in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with a particular focus on how the pandemic has impacted on inequalities across a range of aspects of life.

Health Minister Robin Swann and the Minister for Health for the Republic of Ireland Stephen Donnelly jointly opened the conference.

Minister Swann said: “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt by us all. However, it has also highlighted the stark inequalities that exist within our society. These inequalities unfortunately existed long before COVID-19, which has now further focused our attention on them.  

“The spread of COVID-19 is one of the biggest public health challenges we have faced, and research plays a key role in the fight against it. There is an urgent need therefore to gather both clinical and epidemiological evidence that will inform national policy and practice, and enable new diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines to be developed and tested for COVID-19.

“Across the island of Ireland and the UK we are working to ensure this vital public health research is facilitated in a timely and efficient manner.”

Today’s conference was jointly organised by the Public Health Agency (PHA), the Institute of Public Health (IPH), Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.

Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of the HSC Research & Development Division in the PHA, said: “We have never seen anything like this before in our time and currently the focus is on dealing with the immediate effect, but the long term impact of COVID-19 on the lives of our citizens and the resulting inequalities may be even greater than the current health crisis.

“Today’s all-island conference allows practitioners to come together to share ideas, experiences and to learn from each other with the aim of providing better health outcomes for the citizens on the island of Ireland.”

This event will raise the profile of public health research, interventions and innovation and engage local professionals, practitioners and researchers working in the broad field of public health.

The keynote speakers at today’s conference are:

  • Professor Susan Michie, Professor of Health Psychology at University College London. Prof Michie is an expert advisor on the UK’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behavioural Science (Covid-19) and is a consultant advisor to the WHO on Covid-19 and behaviour.
  • Professor Sharon Friel is Professor of Health Equity, and Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Governance at the Australian National University. Her international peers have voted her as one of the world’s most influential female leaders in global health. 

Suzanne Costello, CEO at the IPH, said: “We are delighted to build on the long-established North South co-operation in sharing knowledge and ideas to create healthier communities on the island of Ireland. While the challenges of the pandemic response continue, our understanding of how to build back is growing, as demonstrated by the presentations at today’s conference.”

In addition to the keynote presentations, delegates have the opportunity to participate in a number of parallel sessions showcasing the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on society, how this has affected inequalities and how we begin to recover from this.

The long-term impact of COVID-19 on the lives of the citizens of Ireland, both North and South, will be seen for generations to come. However, evidence shows that research-active healthcare organisations provide better outcomes for their patients. Through today’s conference it is hoped that the learning gathered will help to inform national policy and practice to improve the lives of those disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in the months and years to come.