Securing Health in Europe. Balancing Priorities, sharing Responsibilities (Closing Plenary)

Closing the European Health Forum Gastein 2015: Securing health in Europe with less alcohol?

Helmut Brand, President of the International Forum Gastein (IFG), has placed this year’s EHFG under the motto of “Securing Health in Europe: Balancing priorities, sharing responsibilities”. The motto is supposed to reflect the idea that health systems need to protect past achievements in the face of current challenges. The Closing Plenary is expected to bring together three days of discussions at the EHFG, where 600 politicians, senior decision-makers, representatives of interest groups, and experts meet to discuss current challenges and opportunities for health systems in Europe. In view of current developments, one important theme of the EHFG 2015 was the refugee crisis.

Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner for Health and two Ministers of Health (Latvia and Luxembourg) sit on the panel together with the WHO Division Director for Communicable Diseases, and with Helmut Brand. On the panel and in the audience, everybody seems to agree on what is needed: “Investing in health”, “Focus on Prevention”, “Health in All Policies” (or alternatively: “Intersectoral Action for Health”), “Promoting Health Literacy”, “Patient Empowerment” (or alternatively: “Patient Centredness), “Evidence-Informed Policy-Making”, “Greater Role for the EU”, “A European Union for Health” … and “More Solidarity”, in particular with refugees. However, from an academic perspective, it is surprising to see how little effort is made to define these ideas and the steps that are needed in order to get there.

It is clear that audience and panelists would respond to the question of “how to balance priorities” by saying: “allocate more resource to health!” And there is no doubt in Gastein that responsibility for health is shared between all ministries – meaning that all ministries should focus on health (!) – and between all EU member states. However, it is no surprise to see 600 public health professionals supporting the idea that public health is the number 1 priority and that everybody should be concerned with health. Helmut Brand seems to be alone when arguing that it would be important to think also about how to make better use of money and that it will be impossible to obtain more resources for health without better data demonstrating that this money is well spent.

Vytenis AndriukaitisVytenis Andriukaitis electrifies the audience when he comes back to the theme that has dominated much of the conference: “There is no refugee crisis… this is a crisis of solidarity in the EU! When we speak about solidarity, there is no point in speaking about voluntary measures. Solidarity is an obligation in a Union as ours!” And he receives broad support as he continues: “In view of millions of refugees living under poor conditions in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, how does the EU’s handling of the crisis look in the eyes of the UN? It is not understandable that the rich countries in the EU can not accept more refugees! How is it possible to accept only Christians? What about human rights? We are all migrants!”

Then, suddenly, the plenary has the chance to vote on an issue that could contribute to improved health in Europe: Andriukaitis reminds the audience that alcohol is the third leading risk factor for burden of disease in Europe. Should the EHFG 2016 be held without alcohol? On the third day of a conference, where wine is severed already for lunch, the idea has only few supporters. But maybe the questions was posed in the wrong way: Should the EHFG be a conference with less alcohol? I personally would say: yes, it should be a conference with less alcohol for me.


This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiner Wilm Quentin

Wilm Quentin



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