Interview with Kjeld Hansen, ELF Chair

Kjeld Hansen is the Chair of the European Lung Foundation. He started the transition period in January 2020, until he officially started the role in September 2020. In this interview we asked him some questions about his interests and goals for his mandate.

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

So, my name is Kjeld Hansen, I am the Chair of the European Lung Foundation. I am a moderate to severe asthmatic, and I have been so since I was around 6 years old.

In my professional life I work at Kristiania University College Oslo, Norway, and I am also associated with Copenhagen Business School in Fredericksburg, Denmark.

Pretty much throughout my entire career I have worked in communication, information technology and information systems in particular, social media, and collaborative work.

So, I am a Dane but I live in Norway; apart from my work with ELF, I do a lot of running, but, especially now in winter, I also enjoy Nordic style skiing.

What interests you about ELF?

I have been working with ELF since 2012 and it was mainly a coincidence that I came to work with them, I was part of a project that was awarded the ELF Award in 2012. Since then, I have been involved with several activities. I got involved in the European Patient Ambassador Programme (EPAP), and then I was a member of the ELF Council from 2015-2018.

In December 2019, I applied for and was selected as ELF Chair and took over from Isabel Saraiva in September 2020.

I think that many patient-focused organisations are set-up and organised in a similar way. But ELF, to me at least, is different, amongst other reasons, because it is not a membership organisation, and because of its close affiliation of with ERS. The close partnership with the respiratory health community, professional environment, multiple stakeholders across the respiratory disease area and the possibility for involving individual patients deeply in its activities creates a very dynamic and impactful environment. Organisations that have a similar structure also tend to think alike. These are some of the areas that separate ELF from other lung health organisations. And that is what mainly interests me about ELF.

What are you most looking forward to in the role?

I think there is a lot to look forward to in the role, but first and foremost I look forward to working with all the knowledgeable and passionate people in lung health and to come up with solutions to some of our most important current and future challenges.

I am looking forward to helping facilitate and involve many more of our passionate and dedicated lung health patients who can use their own experiences and knowledge to build more relevant solutions.

I am looking forward to discussing, coordinating and working with our patient organisations to create stronger and more dynamic responses to both disease-specific and European-wide challenges that we see at the moment.

I look forward to working with all our amazing healthcare professionals in the ERS to come up with ideas, priorities and solutions to lung health challenges, and to help better integrate the knowledge and skills of the practitioners with the challenges and experiences of patients.

Last – but not least – I look forward to working with our incredible ELF staff to help push the boundaries for what patients can achieve and help to create new ideas and avenues for achieving it.

What do you hope to achieve in your time as ELF Chair?

One of the first things I did when I was selected as the next Chair of ELF was to work with the ELF office, patients, patient organisations and ERS officers to create a rolling 3-year plan for ELF.

Some of the points that are outlined in that plan is for ELF to be patient-led. ELF wants to ensure sure that patients and patient organisations really drive its work and they are at the heart of everything that ELF does.

And then we have the digital health which is very topical at the moment since we are all living through the pandemic and a lot of things are switching to digital. Being more aware and mindful about what digital health can be used for in respiratory health is one of the goals we have set up.

The final point I want to mention today is the transition between paediatric to adult care which is a phase that causes a lot of problems for many patients, I experienced this myself as well. This is a problem in many healthcare systems, so to try and help sort out this situation is something that I am very keen to do. 

You have been working with ELF for one year now as you transitioned into the Chair role, how have you found this first year?

For me, it has been incredible, it has been busy and of course, more than anything else, it has been unpredictable.

So, of course we had the COVID-19 pandemic to deal with and we had a lot of concerns and a lot of things we needed to do in connection with that and I am very proud that ELF decided to give the ELF Award to all frontline healthcare workers for all the incredible work they have done.

We also have the unprecedented attention that is currently lent to lung health and is hopefully an opportunity for us to build upon. I know that many lung health organisations are feeling the same thing. Hopefully it is an opportunity for us to come together and to put respiratory health in the spotlight where it belongs.

And then I want to say, my first year has indeed been very gratifying andy satisfying. We have been working with patient advisory groups that are disease specific that can help to inform the assembly structure in the ERS, and we have transformed the ELF Council so now there is a 50:50 representation of healthcare professionals and patients in the Council, and I think that really gives a good dynamic. 

Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself?

Yes, so one of the things I like to tell people about myself is that I am an asthmatic runner, but I don’t often mention that recently after I moved to Norway, I like to run on stairs. I have recently been competing on some of the longest staircases in the world. So, there are more than 4,400 on the Flørli wooden staircase in Lysefjorden in Norway and I was also in Switzerland to compete on the world’s longest staircase with more than 11,000 steps. 

An upcoming challenge I am looking forward to is to run the 110 kilometre trail from Lausanne to Geneva with the director of ELF, Pippa Powell. Hopefully we can do it this year, as it got cancelled last year.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Currently we are working on some interesting projects; we are finalising a brand-new website which will be able to communicate with the lung health community.

We are working on a photo contest which I encourage you all to participate in. The photo contest builds on our recent experience with the COPD art competition. At its core, the challenge is to take photos that are relevant for lung health patients. So, take photos of your everyday life as a respiratory patient and share it with the rest of the world, I think we sorely need images of what it means to be a respiratory patient. 

Finally, I will say again, this has been an incredible, busy, and of course, unpredictable year. I am glad to have been working with ELF throughout and so I am indeed a very humble, and satisfied man.