Last Wednesday, on October 13 the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament adopted its report on the program for the EU’s action in the health sector called “EU4Health” with 74 votes in favor, against 5 and 1 abstention.
In May of this year, the European Commission put forward the new stand-alone program EU4Health for 2021-2027. The Health Programme was previously under the initial EU long-term budget 2021-2027 as one element of the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+).
The members of the EU Parliament wanted to increase the budget for the program from €1.7 billion as proposed by EU member states to €9.4 billion, as originally proposed by the European Commission. The increased budget was cited as necessary to cover the gaps brought into focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, enhance health promotion and make health systems more resilient across the EU. This would enable health systems to face future health threats more effectively.
To reach the programme objectives, the report proposed the following recommendations:
- Focus more on disease prevention,
- Reduce health inequalities,
- Digitalize healthcare through the creation and application of the European eHealth Record,
- Address resistance to vaccination in the EU,
- Strengthen the European Union’s fight against cancer in synergy with Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan,
- Prevent and manage chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes,
- Take more specific actions to address medicine shortages and make better use of antimicrobials, such as antibiotics, and
- Promote health by addressing health risks — such as alcohol and tobacco use.
The EU parliament has proposed to set up a steering group to ensure effective implementation of the program.
As Movendi International previously reported in the draft document for the Cancer Plan, released on World Cancer Day in February 2020, the European Commission had not identified alcohol prevention and control as a key tool for cancer prevention; furthermore the European Commission had not yet clearly identified alcohol’s cancer risk and the alcohol-fuelled cancer burden in Europe.
The EU conducted the first consultation for the Cancer Plan seeking input from Member States, the research community, healthcare professionals, policy-makers, NGOs and patients, as well as businesses and industry, including SMEs, and other stakeholders including key international organizations. The consultation is said to shape the Plan, identify key areas, and explore future action. After the consultations, the final Cancer Plan is to be presented before the end of the year.
The inclusion of alcohol risk in EU4Health is a positive development as alcohol is one of the major risk factors for non-communicable diseases, including cancer, and one of the top 10 risk factors for disease worldwide according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the alcohol burden around the world. NCDs are a risk factor for COVID-19 mortality and alcohol contributes heavily to the NCDs tsunami. Further alcohol weakens the immune system of people making them more susceptible to infection and disease complications. In addition, alcohol-related hospitalizations are straining healthcare systems and emergency services during the pandemic, pushing them to the brink of collapse.
Making alcohol policy the priority it should in the EU, therefore, has multiple benefits for the EU including helping COVID-19 recovery, reducing the NCDs burden, promoting health for all and driving sustainable development.