Towards a Euroregional and European policy in times of crisis
Project “Impact of COVID-19 on the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion”
An important goal of the project “Impact of COVID-19 on the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion” is to contribute to a more uniform Euroregional and European policy during health crises. “There are currently few cross-border regions conducting large-scale studies like this one, so the World Health Organisation is very interested in what we’re doing here”, says project leader Christian Hoebe.
Christian Hoebe is a professor of Infectious Disease Control at CAPHRI and head of the Department of Sexual Health, Infectious Diseases and Environmental Health at Public Health Service South Limburg. The Euroregional study was prompted by the differences in policy responses to COVID-19 between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, ranging from requiring travellers to present a negative test result at the border to varying face-mask policies. “Especially in the early days of the pandemic, the policy responses of these three countries were rather different. This doesn’t affect people who live in a city like Utrecht, but it does affect the people living in cross-border regions.”
The study has received an Interreg Europe grant of one million euros. It was launched in August 2020 and will run until the end of 2021. A representative sample of citizens of the three countries were invited to participate. About 3500 citizens of each country will complete a digital questionnaire and take a simple blood sample at home. Their blood will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies. A second round of questions and tests will follow after the summer, when many more people will have been vaccinated.
The researchers aim to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 in the three countries that comprise the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion and the differences between them. The study will also provide insight into people’s willingness to be vaccinated, their compliance with infection prevention measures, the effects of the pandemic on their social networks, and how long the symptoms of the disease last. These data are of great social relevance. “They’ll be of interest to policymakers and may contribute to the harmonisation of Euroregional and European policy”, expects Christian Hoebe.
Cooperation within the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion
In the study, Maastricht University, Public Health Service South Limburg, euPrevent and Sciensano (the Belgian institute for health) are working together with German health authorities and the Ministry of the German-speaking Community of Belgium. Initially, not all of these parties were equally willing to participate, especially because of the time investment required. This is understandable, says Christian Hoebe. “Many of them were focused on the direct fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.” He is pleased with the fact that all parties ended up participating. “We quickly agreed on the focus of the study. The biggest challenge was to resolve procedural, legal, and medical-ethical issues. Conducting cross-border research together and bringing our data together seemed virtually impossible. It took us a lot of time to meet all the requirements, which delayed the study by months. But we did it.”
The problems encountered by the researchers led to a spin-off study. The aim of this new study, led by euPrevent, will be to create a kind of blueprint to make cross-border research easier.
Text: Karin Burhenne
In the media
Million euro grant for euregional corona researchMonday, August 3, 2020
Maastricht University, GGD South-Limburg and the health services in neighbouring Belgium and Germany were granted an Interreg subsidy of 955,000 euros for a large Euregional COVID-19 study. (Article in Dutch)
The GGD at the border calls German colleagues three times a dayFriday, February 28, 2020
Language, protocols, organisations and more differences in a border-crossed area, where one and the same virus emerges. Controlling the virus is therefore more complex, but cooperation is gradually growing (article in Dutch).
Gesundheidsamt des Kreises Heinsberg
Gesundheidsamt der StädteRegion Aachen
Deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft Belgiens
The citizens of these three countries no longer experience any borders between them, which means that we as professionals must also be able to work ‘without borders’. In a cross-border region like the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, it’s especially important to have good relationships with your immediate neighbours. So, let’s work together and face these challenges together.
- Prof.dr. Christian Hoebe, Professor of Social Medicine and Infectious Disease Control, head Department of Social Medicine, Maastricht University and head Department of Sexual Health, Infectious Diseases and Environmental Health, GGD South-Limburg
Brigitte van de Zanden, director Euprevent
Stephanie Brinkhues, post-doc Department of Social Medicine, Maastricht University en GGD South-Limburg
Paul Savelkoul, professor and head Department of Medical Microbiology, Maastricht University
Inge van Loo, consultant microbiologist, Department of Medical Microbiology, Maastricht University
Danielle Hanssen, medical microbiologist (in-residence) and PhD candidate
Demi Pagen, PhD candidate Department of Social Medicine, Maastricht University en GGD South-Limburg
Stefaan Demarest, senior epidemiologist, Sciensano, Belgium
Dirk Philipsen, Gesundheidsamt Düren, Germany
Karl-Heinz Grimm, Gesundheidsamt des Kreises Heinsberg, Germany
Celine Bilsen, junior researcher GGD South-Limburg
Chrissy Moonen, junior researcher GGD South-Limburg
Nicole Dukers, senior epidemiologist Maastricht University en GGD South-Limburg
Involved research line
- Health Inequities and Societal Participation
Our most important societal relevance output
- Several citizens’ summits funded by the Interreg VA EMR project “euPrevent COVID” will be organized in various border regions (Aachen, Düren, Eupen, Hasselt, Heinsberg, Liège and Maastricht). The goal of these citizens’ summits is to give the citizens living in border regions the opportunity to exchange their personal experiences during the corona time.
Our most important scientific output
- Online Kick-off euPrevent SHE meeting: 28 January 2021
- Conference euPrevent COVID-19: 16 December 2021. A conference will be organised for presenting the first results of this project and where the first draft report of the recommendations will be discussed with experts from all over the EMR and outside.
- COVID-19: first long-term care facility outbreak in the Netherlands following cross-border introduction from Germany, March 2020. Mitch van Hensbergen, Casper D.J. den Heijer, Petra Wolffs, Volker Hackert, Henriëtte L.G. ter Waarbeek, Bas B. Oude Munnink, Reina S. Sikkema, Edou R. Heddema and Christian J.P.A. Hoebe. BMC Infectious Diseases (2021) 21:418.