Paola Testori Coggi, Former Director General for Health and Consumers, European Commission speaks to Open Access Government about her work here on defending investments in public health
In this interview, Paola Testori Coggi, Former Director General for Health and Consumers, European Commission speaks to Open Access Government about her work here on defending investment in public health. As Director for the Food Chain Safety, we find out what work she carried out in the White Paper on food safety and the legislative action programme, as well as the management of emergencies.
In addition, Paola details the important work she did as Advisor for Consumer Health to Commissioner Emma Bonino, on the definition of the new European Union (EU) policy on consumer health after the food safety crisis. We also find out about what she is doing now as Chair of the Valletta Technical Committee on cooperation for better access to medicines and the priorities in this area.
If all that wasn’t enough, Paola also highlights her current cooperation with the International Trade Center of the United Nations as Special Advisor on sanitary and phytosanitary matters – plus her views on the priorities should be for the next European Commissioner when it comes to supporting the policy areas of food safety and public health.
Tell us about your time as Director General for Health and Consumers of the European Commission
I took office as Director General for Health and Consumers in 2010 when the financial and economic crisis was affecting severely public finances and public health budgets were kept under constant review in order to reduce expenditure and to achieve more efficiency. I defended strongly all investments in public health – promoting the concept that better health is wealth and, therefore, health expenditure is not a cost but an investment.
To this aim, I succeeded in getting the Communication, Investing in health adopted by the Commission: This Communication underlines that the investment in health systems, other than creating value for the health of each individual, contributes to social cohesion and helps reducing poverty and social exclusion. Secondly, sustainable investments and cost-effective spending bring savings and secure better health outcomes. Thirdly, health can boost economic growth by enabling people to work and remain healthier longer.
I contributed to the adoption and implementation of the Directive on Patients’ rights in cross-border health- care. This directive not only helps patients to exercise their rights for health treatments in any EU country but also creates the foundations for greater cooperation and integration in some areas of the national healthcare systems, such as the European reference networks on rare diseases and e-health.
As Director for the Food Chain Safety, what work did you carry out on the White Paper on food safety and the legislative action programme, as well as the management of emergencies? What did this involve?
The White paper on food safety was necessary because, after the crisis of the Mad Cow Disease in the late Nineties, it became clear that the EU legislation was not sufficient to guarantee the safety of the food chain. In the White Paper, we developed a radical new approach, including an independent agency for scientific advice, a reinforced body of EU inspectors and a completely new set of legislation covering the entire food chain from “farm to table”, emergency mechanisms in response to health emergencies throughout the food chain.
In the space of a few years, it was possible to adopt many regulations and measures because all EU Institutions and the Member States realised that the Union had to provide a rapid and effective response to regain citizens’ trust and consumer confidence. The General Food Law, the pillar of the new policy adopted in 2002, is the most far-reaching piece of EU legislation in the area of public health and consumer protection: It established the European Food Safety Authority, it laid down general principles, requirements and procedures covering all stages of food and feed production and distribution and it created the Rapid Alert System for food and feed.
As Advisor for Consumer Health to Commissioner Emma Bonino, what work did you do on the definition of the new EU policy on consumer health after the food safety crisis?
I started to work with Commissioner Emma Bonino when the College, in response to the Enquiry Committee set up by the European Parliament in February 2007, decided to give the responsibility of developing the new policy on Consumer Health to Commissioner Bonino, which at the time was the most popular Commissioner thanks to her action in the humanitarian field. In a few months, with the Commissioner and a small group of very dedicated and competent colleagues, we prepared a complete re-organisation of the Commission services and identified a series of measures for better protection of consumer health and a higher level of food safety.
What work are you doing now as Chair of the Valletta Technical Committee on cooperation for better access to medicines and what are the priorities for this?
The objective of the Valletta Declaration, which has been signed by ten Member States, is to collaborate in order to improve patients’ access to new and innovative medicines and to support the sustainability of the national health systems. I direct the discussions of the members for the identification and prioritisation of areas for cooperation and for the actions on assessments and pricing.
In this area, there are European, national and regional competences and we must take into account science, pharmaco-economy, sustainability, equity and innovation. So, as Chair of the Valletta Committee and previously as President of the Italian Committee for pricing and reimbursement of medicines, my thrust and my course of action is to find a common ground amongst all these aspects and the interests of the stakeholders, in order to guarantee access to medicines for all patients, while aiming at the sustainability of pharmaceutical expenditure and the promotion of research and innovation.
Tell us about your cooperation with the International Trade Center of the United Nations as Special Advisor on sanitary and phytosanitary matters
I have been working with the International Trade Center in the area of technical assistance to developing countries in order to help them to comply with the international sanitary and phytosanitary measures. In particular, I have contributed to the development of a new scheme called Systematic and Emergency Support Mechanism for Safer Food, which has been financed by Regional Trade Related Assistance of the DEVCO programme. The specific objective of this mechanism is to increase food safety and competitiveness of agro-food products in certain developing countries through access to knowledge and compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary market access requirements.
What do you think the priorities should be for the next European Commissioner when it comes to supporting food safety and public health?
One of the priorities in the area of public health, which should be pursued by the new Commission is the area of the performance of the health systems: we know that all national systems need to be reformed in order to face the challenge of sustainability and ageing of the population. This reform implies stronger governance, more efficient primary care, better-integrated care, new health workforce skill-mixes and introduction of innovative e-health solutions and innovative therapies. Cooperation and consultation at EU level, as well as EU financing mechanisms, can be of great help.
In the area of food safety, the priority of the next Commission should be to defend the European model of production, which has the best level of safety, sustainability, quality and ethicality and to promote it in the world. This implies that our agricultural and food production should continue to be able to meet the high costs imposed by our stringent safety, environmental and social standards.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I have always been working in the public sector -Italian regional administration, European Commission and lastly in the Italian Health Ministry- in policy areas of great social and economic impact, such as public health, food safety, consumer protection and the environment. It has been a great privilege for me to work in the areas of public service, for the res publica, with the objective of creating an efficient public administration at the service of the citizens and defending the well-being and the safety of consumers and patients, while taking into account also the interests of other stakeholders.
This interview was organised following the EHFG London event “Beyond the horizon – what will the world of research look like 10 years from now?” held in conjunction with REL X and hosted by the Wellcome Trust. The event was hosted by the European Health Forum Gastein (https://www.ehfg.org/) in the lead up to their forthcoming event, EHFG 2019: A healthy dose of disruption? Transformative change for health and societal well-being in early October 2019, at Bad Hofgastein in Austria. Paola Coggi is also a member of the EHFG’s advisory committee.
Paola Testori Coggi
Former Director General for Health and Consumers, European Commission
European Health Forum Gastein
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