European Commission to launch new proposal for disease prevention in Europe

Brussels 18 May 2000A fresh European strategy on public health is now under debate following the European Commission's launch of a new proposal to analyse and combat disease in Europe. At its core is an incentive programme with a proposed budget of 300 million euro over six years. The first step in the strategy aims to put in place a comprehensive data system on the major determinants of health in the European Union, together with methods to evaluate this data. The second seeks to ensure that the Community is in a position to counter threats to health, which cannot be tackled by member states on their own. A third will put in place strategies to identify the most effective policy for combating disease and promoting health.

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The proposal also outlines the legislative initiatives in relation to public health which are currently under consideration and reiterates that a high level of health protection shall be ensured in all Community policies and initiatives. "The potential for improved health through Community action is hugely under-exploited", commented David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer protection, as he announced the plans for a new strategy.

The Commission believes that increased co-operation and constructive peer review of the member states' individual health systems could help identify strengths and weaknesses, leading to better systems all round and helping Europe to meet the challenge of its ageing population. The comprehensive data system proposed by in the Commission's new strategy is intended to enable such a critical review of individual health care systems within the European Union.

"Citizens in each member state should have available a wide range of information on what impacts on their health and how public health systems cater to their needs", according to the Commission. "People also should know how their systems perform and what precisely their strengths and weaknesses are. This will allow scarce resources to be utilised to best effect while also ensuring that a vital public interest, namely a high level of human health, is ensured."

Commenting on this aspect of the strategy, Mr Byrne stated: "It is not the Commission's intention to run the member states' health care systems. Instead, we want to help introduce light and transparency into public health systems." The new strategy equally puts a major focus on threats to health arising from increased integration at both the European Union and world level.

"It is very dangerous to pretend that any individual member state can protect its citizens' health through its own efforts alone. Certain threats and risks, notably communicable diseases, know no borders", stated the Commissioner. The new strategy includes proposals for the strengthening of existing mechanisms for the early detection, monitoring and control of such risks. It also proposes legislative initiatives in areas like the safety of blood and blood products.

Also included are proposals aimed to co-ordinate national efforts for health promotion and disease prevention. "One fifth of European citizens die prematurely, before the age of 65, often from preventable diseases", added Mr. Byrne. "If we are able to succeed in reducing the incidence of premature death, for example through the effective strategies on smoking prevention and early detection of cancer, we could very considerably improve the health of Europe's citizens."

Mr. Byrne equally stressed that no single institution can claim ownership of public health at the Community level. "We should concentrate our efforts where they can have best effect. This programme will not build the hospitals or finance cuts in waiting lists. Instead, it will aim to provide a meaningful Community contribution to the member states' own huge efforts and expenditure aimed at protecting the health of our citizens. This can best be done by encouraging open and transparent co-operation in identifying where and how the member states are effectively addressing their health concerns."

In turn, the Community must ensure that increased integration, both at the European Union and international level, is accompanied by reinforced efforts to deal with the increased health risks from such integration, according to Mr. Byrne. The new proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council for consideration under the co-decision procedure.


Leslie Versweyveld

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