European alcohol policies: Rethinking and strengthening implementation (F10)

Did you know that one million deaths per year in the WHO European Region are due to harmful use of alcohol? – and that these figures vary within and between countries in the region and by social group? Evidence also shows a clear relationship between alcohol consumption and life expectancy; if you decrease the former you can increase the latter. So why aren’t countries doing more to prevent this?

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Lunch Session: Making real world data real – new methods for EU health technology assessments (L7)

Health data – a matter of safety, robustness and advancement

In healthcare we constantly need to make accurate decisions based on efficient and correct assessments of not just the short- but also long-term value and performance of new therapies and drugs for patients. We need robust and especially complete data from patients. This however poses challenges in terms of data protection, regulatory approvals to meet comparative effectiveness and value in terms of health outcomes. Experts and advocates discussed the above matters during the lunch session on Friday, 4th October 2019, titled: Making real world data real – new methods for EU health technology assessments.

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Obesity in Europe – time for a new approach? (F8)

We have all heard the words chronic diseases and non-communicable diseases before. But have we ever considered defining obesity as one? In this afternoon’s session, Jacqueline Bowman-Busato, the policy lead of the European Association for the Study of Obesity, asked a controversial question: What would happen if Europe approached obesity like other chronic disease epidemic and focused on addressing the biological causes in approaches to policy along the obesity continuum?  

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Facts. Figures! Fiction? Who will take the power to lead the conversation?(L1)

In the era of technology and the broad availability of information, health care professionals are facing the problem of finding the relevant and accurate information in the haystack.

The Lunch workshop 1 on ‘Facts. Figures! Fiction?’, chaired by Martin McKee (LSHTM) and Claudia Habl (Gesundheit Österreich GmbH) tackled the problem of ‘fake news’, data quality and the availability, interpretation and dissemination of information – and who influences each of these. He stresses that the term is often used without a clear understanding of what it means, and that we need to be able to distinguish between ‘misinformation’ (often involuntary), ‘disinformation’ (purposely deceiving people), and ‘fake news’ (a weaponised form of disinformation spread in a way often mimicking news media trustworthy content). However, in practice is often very difficult to make a difference between the categories. For example, anti-vaccine propaganda may be spread by those who have a genuine concern (however misguided about safety) or by those who are using the issue as a tool to undermine trust in particular governments.

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Nobody Left Outside:

Improving Healthcare access for marginalised people (B1)

It was just after sunrise when I walked past these two containers with the beautiful sign: “Nobody Left Outside”. It was 7 am and I was on my way to one of the most inspiring and innovative workshop that I have attended in a long time.

Already over 70 years ago, in the 1946 Constitution of the World health Organization (WHO) it was articulated the right to Health as a fundamental part of human rights:

“The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Unfortunately, in the year 2019, in the European region there are still large population groups that are left outside of the healthcare system. Groups such as homeless, sex workers, migrants, LGBTI people, people who use drugs, prisoners are often stigmatised and marginalised and are disconnected from the society. Thus, the event organized today by Merck & Co. (MSD) and by Nobody Left Outside (NLO) was an unique opportunity to bring to light this huge public health challenge and highlight the need for improving access and equity.

“The event comprised a breakfast workshop and an incredibly inspiring exhibition. The workshop was a refreshing and stimulating event. It started with a focus on the opinion of some of the most underserved communities. Dinah Bons, Director of Transgender Europe and representing the International Committee on the rights of sex workers in Europe (ICRSE), highlighted that the groups “left behind” are often groups living in Poverty that we may not encounter in our day-to-day life. They usually have different needs and they are often more affected by complex health issues such as HIV or Hepatitis.  “

Dinah Bons (from Transgender Europe) discussing during the Nobody Left Behind Workshop.

Her intervention was followed by Mario Cascio from European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG) who emphasised the importance of community programmes for prisoners as they are often marginalised from the healthcare system and at higher risk of suffering from infectious diseases.

One of the most marginalised communities across Europe are migrants. As an epidemiologist working in Malta, I often witness how asylum seekers and migrants tend to struggle to access the healthcare system. Thus, hearing the work of Denis Onyango from the Africa Advocacy Foundation (AAF) was refreshing and encouraging. It was particularly inspirational to hear Elena Val (from the International Organization for Migration, IOM) who recognised that entering a new health system is challenging for all migrants, but refugees and asylum seekers often face additional difficulties, such as stigma, fears of deportation, changes in legislation and limited rights to health access.

The NLO initiative has issued a Service Design Checklist intended to be used by service providers and policy makers to design and deliver targeted health and social services accessible to people in marginalized communities ant risk of vulnerability. They have also recently issued a call to action statement and further information can be found here.

The second part of this event was a beautiful art exhibition located just in front of the main conference center. In these containers, photographs and audio recordings with stories from different individuals are shown highlighting their struggles.

The NLO Exhibition

Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commisionair for Health and Food Safety visiting the Exhibition.

This type of innovative events are a great opportunity to strengthen the collaborations between all  the groups involved in providing health for undeserved communities  and for raising awareness among health professionals while creating positive relationships and reducing stigma. There is still a large challenge ahead; Nevertheless, we ought to continue our efforts to reduce these barriers. We ought to continue working together and innovative initiatives such as Nobody Left Outside (NLO) which are an inspiring projects that are giving a voice to this communities and contributing significantly to make Europe a better place for all.

This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiner Raquel Medialdea-Carrera