EuroHealthNet is a European Partnership that aims to improve health, equity and wellbeing through action on the social determinants of health and health inequalities, disease prevention and health promotion. It is therefore a reference to these aspects of public health that we miss in the “Description of the problem the initiative aims to tackle”.
This initiative aims to provide a collaborative platform for pre-competitive research and innovation where small and big companies can join forces with researchers, patients, healthcare professionals and regulators. This cooperation with partners specialised in e.g. pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, medical devices, imaging or from the biotech and digital industries will help speed up the development and uptake of innovation in public health.
While it is true that the EU must deal with an ageing population and an increasing burden of disease, it is also highly important that a problem of health inequalities within and between EU Member States is addressed and prevented. By considering equity and social fairness, innovative health interventions can make a significant contribution to addressing the challenges identified in the proposal. If left unchecked, the transformative potential of digitalisation or innovations in the field of health may remain inaccessible or too costly to benefit all population groups. Better digital health literacy, broader R&I understanding of the structural causes of disease and paths that lead to better health and wellbeing, the continuum of care and life-course approach may offer a much needed change of R&I narrative. Preventative, people-centered and integrated care, addressing key determinants of health, should always constitute an integral part of the European Partnership on Innovative Health.
Health inequalities reduce economic and social productivity and lead to higher healthcare and welfare costs, a point we recommend recognising in the “Expected economic and social impacts” in part C. Evidence shows that in the EU, inequalities in health are estimated to cost 980 billion per year, or 9.4% of European GDP. A 50% reduction of gaps in life expectancy would provide monetised benefits to countries ranging from 0.3% to 4.3% of GDP. Furthermore, for every 1 EUR spent on health promotion, on average, 14 EUR is returned to the economy. Action on health inequalities and the promotion of health-enhancing environments in which people are born, live, work and age represent a good return on investment, can unlock untapped sustainable growth potential, and have strong public support.
The Horizon Europe programme, a basis of the proposed European Partnership, acknowledges that the health challenges faced by the EU cannot be addressed by health systems alone and that they are fundamentally interlinked, global in nature and require multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral and transnational collaboration. Yet, a “health in all policies” principle (Art. 168 TFEU) is clearly lacking from the legal basis of the Partnership proposal, as well as from its expected contribution towards the implementation of the UN SDGs Agenda.
Finally, since the Partnership would include support to public-private collaborations, it should address issues of privatisation, ethics, and commodification of health research results, services and products – potentially undermining efforts towards the Health for All and contributing to widening health inequalities in the EU and globally. Establishing good governance and transparency, cohesion and coordination needs careful consideration. It is essential to ensure a balanced approach towards use of public funds to address issues that concern the public, respond to wider societal needs, and promote scientific collaboration beyond ‘traditional’ top-down disease-oriented R&I. True partnership for innovative health would mean being non-exclusive of cross-sector and smaller public health stakeholders both at EU and Member State level.
Read the consultation response here.