VITO has been part of the Environmental Healthcare Partner Organisation (PO MGZ) of the Agency for Care and Health since the end of 2016, together with the Provincial Institute for Hygiene (PIH) and the Flemish Institute for Healthy Living. The Partner Organisation translates existing health research into concrete tips, guidelines and tools for the Flemish Environmental Health Network. The scientific support of VITO ensures that the government can develop a well-founded policy to protect the population against damage to health as a result of environmental pollution.

Four subjects are addressed based on a policy plan: preventive policy on traffic-related pollution, indoor environmental pollution, environmental health focus areas and risk analysis.

As part of its preventive policy on traffic-related pollution, the PO MGZ developed the Local Mobility Health Indicator, which was presented to the wider public in September 2018. The tool gives each Flemish municipality a score based on four parameters: healthy air quality, absence of traffic noise, traffic safety and active mobility. The score shows how this municipality compares to other municipalities in terms of these parameters. The aim of this is to encourage local authorities to take initiatives to protect and promote the health of their citizens.

In terms of risk analysis and health-related focus areas, the focus of PO MGZ in 2018 lay on the further development of methods and guidelines on the handling of environmental health concerns and complaints. As a result, the Agency and environmental health experts can draw conclusions and take policy measures in a uniform and scientifically-based manner.  The fact that Flanders is playing a pioneering role with this approach is demonstrated by the fact that the WHO Regions for Health Network is interested in various instruments developed by the PO MGZ. 

The PO MGZ also offers support in terms of the indoor environment. It is organising a home lab for this purpose. Air quality measurements can be used to determine whether health complaints in individuals are linked to the indoor environment. What is more, work is also being carried out on the development of an alternative surveillance system, with which the indoor environmental quality of Flemish homes will be able to be mapped using simple indicators.

In addition to providing policy advice, the PO MGZ launched two scientific intervention studies in 2018. These studies will test the potential of a (policy) intervention on promoting health. In the first intervention study, we are hoping to investigate whether adapting the area around the school (such as a “school street” (a street closed to traffic before and at the end of school hours)) has a positive effect on pupils' health. In the second intervention study, we are aiming to investigate whether feasible advice regarding wood burning behaviour has a favourable effect on residents' health. Both studies will map the environmental health chain before and during the intervention. We do this by measuring heating behaviour, the (indoor) air quality, exposure and health markers.

These projects will continue to run in 2019 and 2020 and must assess whether behavioural changes have an impact on reducing the negative impacts of traffic in the vicinity of the school and reducing the negative effects of wood burning.

The current agreement with the Agency for Care and Health will run until 2020. The extensive reports from the PO MGZ can be consulted on the online platform CIRRO