Interview with Piroska Östlin

Today we were talking a lot about that health is a political choice. We would like to hear your comments on how you think that the influence of politics on health has developed in the last decade or so? Can you see that anything has changed?
This is a very good question indeed. I think health has always been a political choice, but Piroska Östlin & Olivia Biermannwe have not talked about it as such and we have not fully recognized its importance before. Today, we have much evidence to show that different sectoral policies and political decisions or choices do have an impact on health and health inequities. Some political choices clearly promote health and some are clearly detrimental to health. We can show this with good quality data which is very compelling. Thus, based on evidence we can say firmly that political choices and political decisions in different sectors – not only in the health sector – are really very important for health.

And when you say that there is more evidence – what kind of evidence are you thinking about mostly?
I’m thinking about, for example, evidence presented in the European review on social determinants of health and the health divide, which shows that policies in the educational sector that promote access to good quality early child education are likely to contribute to better physical and mental health in adulthood. In a recent study, that was launched at the Regional Committee of the WHO in Vilnius called “Promoting health, preventing disease: the economic case” by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, OECD and the WHO Regional Office for Europe, compelling evidence is presented to show that addressing risk factors for health is efficient use of government’s money. So, they should invest more in health promotion and disease prevention.

I understand that this is very powerful.
Yes. For example, raising cigarette prices to the EU average of $5.50, would save thousands of lives, 100,000 in Russia alone. Such cost-effectiveness analyses are very useful.

Great, thank you. What was your highlight of the conference, Piroska?
I think it was when the Minister of Finance of Austria in my panel said that health in all policies should be self-evident for everybody. Yes, he said that [smiles]. I thought “Wow, it’s fantastic if the Finance Minister says that!” We only hope that the Finance Minister follows up this statement also in practice, through increased financial resources to the health sector, in particular to health promotion, disease prevention, health research etc. What the Minister said was like music for my ears. I’m sure that the Minster of Health would appreciate it also very much – especially if the words are linked with commitment for increased resources for the health sector.


This interview was conducted by the Young Gasteiners Olivia Biermann and Tatiana Padurura

Olivia Biermann Tatiana Padurura


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