The Europe We Want: Putting health equity and social justice on the EU agenda, by L. Palumbo - Health & Social Investment Senior Coordinator

08 October 2014

Recently, three EuroHealthNet representatives returned from attending the European Health Forum Gastein, a significant EU health policy debate. This year there was a debate on the future of the MDGs, health system performance, public health leadership, and a visit from the Commissioner-designate for health and food safety. “Electing Health – The Europe We Want” is the motto for this year`s theme. Around 600 participants from more than 50 countries attended to exchange view on key issues affecting European health systems. The future direction of European health policy is the key topic on the conference agenda.

The opening keynote speech by former Greek Prime Minister, Georgis Papandreou focused on past events in Greece. He argued the crisis showed the interdependency between EU member states and the need for greater cooperation to address security, peace or inequality.  Collective action is necessary as these problems cannot be solved by individual countries alone. Mr Papandreou suggested to reinvent the social model and advocated out-of-the-box thinking. Why not develop the Erasmus program for the unemployed? MEP Aljoz Peterle called for a commitment to prevention: “The actions of health promotion should be understood positively as the way of diminishing the inflow of new patients. In the long run, prevention is the most cost-effective response for improving the state of  European health.”

There was also a debate on how to integrate health into the post-2015 development framework and sustainable development goals. It is a technical process with 169 new targets and 17 new goals. After a series of national, regional and global level consultations on the post-2015 development framework under the technical supervision of WHO and UNICEF, the international consensus reached on maximising healthy life and achieving universal health coverage, UHC. There will be further high-level debates and the process will culminate at the 2015 UN General Assembly. This means there is still time to engage in the process to prioritise the social determinants of health and equity in the discussions to address crucial issues such as gender equality and empowerment of women; sexual and reproductive health; wealth distribution; climate change; and sustainable diets. In the past the millennium development goals were a useful tool to align national policies, so this is a process to be followed.

Martin Seychell, deputy director general at the Commission's DG SANCO, discussed what the EU was doing on monitoring health system performance. This is important politically as costs of health system have steadily been growing and the importance the Juncker Commission is devoting to adequate social protection. The EU and OECD are collaborating to develop instruments to help decision makers achieve public policy goals. This also links closely with the emphasis of the efficiency of health systems within the framework of the EU semester.

Mr Andriukaitis, Commissioner-designate for health and food safety, made a passionate speech about the need to reduce health inequalities and to demonstrate that health is an investment in human capital. He then closed the conference by stressing that his priorities would be the 3 P’s: prevention, promotion, protection for the next 5 years. This is a relief for advocates for health equity, as his mission letter has no mention of health promotion or disease prevention.

EuroHealthNet is ready to work with both Commissioner-designate Andriukaitis and Commissioner-designate Thyssen to reduce health and promote social equity. Through our new partnership, the European Platform for Action on Health and Social Equity (PHASE) EuroHealthNet will engage with health organisations and a wider range of partners from relevant fields in public, private and voluntary sectors to address the wider determinants of health. Through the debates on the future of public health in the EU, health system performance assessment, and the post-2015 development framework, we will play our part in ensuring health equity is not forgotten and bring in the expertise of public health agencies and statutory bodies to these debates.

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Picture: Plenary Session - European Health Forum Gastein