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European Commission seeks to tackle health inequalities

The European Commission states that health must be given a higher priority among the European Union’s various policies and funding programmes, to raise standards throughout the continent. HEAL member, The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), sees this latest move as a positive opportunity to redirect the focus of EU priorities and spending.

On October 20th the Commission released a long awaited communication taking the first steps to tackle health inequalities within and between Member States in Europe. The ’Communication on Solidarity in Health: Reducing health inequalities in the EU’, sees greater scope in the use of the billions of pounds the European Union spends every year on regional and social projects to tackle the health inequalities which exist within and between countries.

Despite a general improvement in public health levels in Europe, differences exist in key indicators such as mortality rates, incidence of disease, and available treatment. Life expectancy at birth varies throughout Europe by up to eight years for women and 14 years for men. There are fears that in the current economic climate the health gap could increase in groups, notably the unemployed, worst hit by the recession.

The WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health has a developed framework for action to reduce these inequalities. EPHA calls on the European Commission to use this Communication as a stepping stone to bring about an effective and permanent change, specifically to address the underlying drivers of health inequalities that lie outside the health system.

"Current policies are failing our most vulnerable," said Monika Kosinska, EPHA’s Secretary General. "We know what the problems are - this Communication marks an important first step but we need to be bold and move away from business as usual." EPHA believe that with the post-Lisbon agenda, the Commission now has the opportunity to tackle problems at the Community level, by placing health and health equity high in its new framework for regeneration. Read more on the EPHA position here.

EuroHealthNet, a leading EU organisation working to address inequalities in health within and between EU states, has also welcomed the adoption of the Communication (read the press release here). EuroHealthNet director, Clive Needle, congratulated the European Commission on its move saying "As the new Commission starts its work there will be many ways – from the highest post Lisbon priorities to local initiatives – that work to improve health equity can and will contribute to the needs of all citizens and common EU objectives. EuroHealthNet – which networks health promotion agencies across the EU – has put addressing inequalities at the core of its mission since its inception when the EU mandate in health began. It now looks forward to a new impetus for far-reaching actions and will play a strong part in realising the encouraging words of the Commission.”

Androulla Vassiliou, the EU health commissioner, said, "I want to see a Europe where everyone has the opportunity to enjoy a high level of health regardless of where they live or their social or ethnic background. We have recognised that health inequalities need to be tackled."

A meeting between European and national experts is due to be held in Brussels in November to determine the concrete contribution the Commission could make to reduce existing health inequalities. This is expected to explore the possibility of EU funds being used to co-finance national health information and promotion campaigns and other measures, including the development of e-health.

Last updated on 10 June 2011

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