Promoting public health in the European Union Member States

Here, we take a look at some recent examples of how public health in European Union Member States has been supported by the outgoing European Commissioner for Health & Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis 

Vytenis Andriukaitis (1), the current European Commissioner for Health & Food Safety will soon be replaced by Stella Kyriakides (2) for the 2019-2024 period. During the 2014-2019 period, Vytenis Andriukaitis’s responsibilities included building up knowledge on how national health systems perform, to mould both national and European Union (EU) policies. Another concerns the increased calls on national health services during a time when there is intense pressure on public finance. (3)

The concept of healthy lifestyles

Commissioner Andriukaitis took part in a high-level ‘Healthcare Innovation for the future’ meeting on 9th September 2019. Here, he stressed the importance of paying attention to, “the protection, prevention and promotion of health, to the economy of health, health and wellness ‘valleys’ or infrastructure”, as well as the creation of networks of healthy cities and villages and nutritional policies. One area the Commissioner highlighted is about incorporating the concept of healthy lifestyles in the creation of all businesses, a point he explained in his own words.

“We have to include the concept of healthy lifestyles in creation of every business. I think it is time the industry does not ‘business as usual but business as healthier’. This would be such life-changing progress. And the only way to move to healthy ageing goal.

“Public health instruments have to be realised in a coherent way.

“And it means real ‘health in all policies’ approach. It requires a wide range of different measures: taxation, marketing and advertisement regulation, education and infrastructure, just mentioning a few.

“It has to be done at all levels – EU, national, regional and local – all together, but based on evidence of the effectiveness of public health instruments. Ant the participation of all actors involved here is crucial.”

When it comes to concrete actions implemented on the EU level in public health, Commissioner Andriukaitis draws our attention to the Alcohol Strategy, the provisions of which still need to be implemented and there is more work to be done here. Despite this, the Commissioner underlines some good examples that can be implemented and encourages the Member States to follow these examples.

“We congratulate Scotland’s pioneering policy of minimum pricing for alcohol, which has been successfully implemented. That is life-saving legislation. Excellent example and precedent for other Member States.

“Another good example – Irish Public Health legislative framework designed to tackle Ireland’s harmful relationship with alcohol. It aims to reduce the damage that alcohol causes to individuals, families and society by reducing alcohol consumption, with a particular focus on protecting children and young people from alcohol harm.

“The EU expressed positive support to those measures and encouraged Member States to follow those examples.”

The Commissioner added that the EU can support the policies of the Member States concerning alcohol-related harm by, for example, the reduction of aggressive online marketing to underage and adolescents, supporting unbiased information through labelling and increasing access to food and drink choices.

Finally, on other public health initiatives, Commissioner Andriukaitis explained that the European Commission has developed an innovative approach in the field of public health. One of the examples he used in this respect, was the State of Health in the EU, a permanent two-year European Commission project that gives policymakers, health practitioners and interest groups insights into health and healthcare and cure systems in EU countries, as well as actual and comparative data. The Commissioner then explained why this approach is helpful.

“It helps to prepare annual Country Specific Recommendations to Member States. Together with the next MFF, the proposed regulation on the European Social Fund Plus provides a key governance role for the Steering group for more upstream consultation with the health authorities.”

Commissioner Andriukaitis added that a good example of that is the Swedish ‘Physical Activity on Prescription’, which will be really useful if transferred to Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Spain, Portugal and Romania. Having said that, he stressed the need for the Member States to have the same definition of health in front of their eyes. This is an appropriate note to end this article on as it speaks about ‘the health in all policies’ approach, which is part of the tremendous legacy that Commissioner Andriukaitis leaves. I am sure you would like to join me in wishing him well for the future and his replacement, Stella Kyriakides for the 2019-2024 period.

“But first of all, we have to look in the same direction, to have same values and health definition in front of our eyes:

‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’

“It means – we need to look at it through ‘Health in all policies’ approach. The Commission tries to implement ‘the health in all policies’ approach.” (4)

 

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