Public Health and our Environment!

The connection between the environment and public health is undeniable. Everything from air and water quality, chemicals, soil pollution, food contamination, and sanitation has an effect on the ability of people in the community to live healthy, fulfilling lives. As the truths about current environmental concerns are illuminated, organizations such as the European Union and the European Commission are taking action to protect people from chronic diseases that stem from poor environmental conditions.

According to the European Commission, a significant portion of the diseases found in industrialized countries are attributable to environmental factors. Of particular concern to Europe is the large number of respiratory diseases and cancers in children and at-risk groups.

As an effort to minimize the risk for disease as much as possible, the EC adopted the Environment and Health Action Plan (2004-2010) to obtain more knowledge about the connection between disease and environmental risk factors. The EC also created a discussion forum about health risks and the environment to facilitate the sharing of ideas between stakeholders from various disciplines.

The EU got involved in the conversation by making “health and environment” one of its four focuses at the Environment Action Program. Although there have been improvements through newly adopted policies, the hazards of environmental pollution are still very real. The Environmental Health Alliance states that air, noise, chemical, and water pollution are some of the factors in the contraction of chronic diseases.

Both the WHO and the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) focused on the negative health effects that accompany air pollution. The WHO project involves a massive review of scientific literature to provide a background before policies are made. Once an extensive understanding of the health risks involved is amassed, evaluations of current WHO guidelines will be made in order to decide if air quality rules need to be stricter. The HEAL also calls on the EU and national leaders to adopt stricter climate and environment policies to protect people from the negative health side effects.

The discussion about how to best deal with unhealthy environmental concerns is still occurring, but with the involvement of several international public health organizations, there is no doubt that a solution will be reached that minimizes the risk of chronic diseases.

Are Europe’s Roads Safe? Progress in minimizing roadside deaths slows in 2011

Last week the European Commission met to discuss the progress in their goal to decrease the number of road deaths in Europe. As part of the EU Road Safety Action Plan 2011-2020, the European Commission aims to decrease the number of annual road deaths by 50%.

In the past decade, Europe made a great deal of progress in limiting the number of road fatalities. Under the Road Safety Action Plan 2001-2010, road related deaths were cut by 45%.

However, road deaths are still a major problem throughout Europe. In his address, Siim Kallas, EC Vice President in charge of transport, stated that 85 people still die on the road in Europe every day. According to new data released by the EC, in the last year the decrease in road deaths was only by 2%, which is the slowest decline in a decade.

In the unusual cases of Germany and Sweden, who have had high safety records in the past, there have actually been increases in road deaths in the last year. The road death toll increased in Germany by a whopping 10%. Other countries such as Poland and Belgium also had increased road related deaths.

To make the number of road deaths decrease more exponentially, Kallas and the EC are focusing on avoiding motorcycle fatalities in 2012. Even as the number of other road deaths fell in the last decade, there has yet to be a decrease in motorcycle deaths.

Aside from taking a more thorough look at motorcyclist deaths, some other initiatives of the EU Road Safety Action Plan 2011-2020 include developing more safety measures for vehicles, building safer roads, strengthening the licensing and training procedures for new drivers, and enforcing regulations more strictly.

While it will be difficult to overcome the dangers leading to road deaths, the EC’s commitment to the goal of a 50% reduction in the roadside death toll has the potential to make the streets of Europe much safer for everyone. To personally help the effort to avoid roadside deaths, please remember to stay smart and be safe on the road!


Inequalities and multiple discrimination in healthcare

discriminationOn February 20th the fact sheet on “Inequalities and multiple discrimination in healthcare” was published. It outlines the policy context and legal framework in the EU to address multiple discrimination and presents the project’s objectives. The investigation focuses on identifying barriers and experiences of discrimination that prevent access to healthcare services. In addition, it maps policies in EU Member States to improve health services for people who are at risk of being discriminated; and determine ways through which health professionals can address the needs of such people.

The fact sheet is available in Czech, English, French German, Italian and Swedish.

Article 21 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights addresses discrimination. Each European citizen should be free of discrimination regarding their age, sex, ethical background, religious belief and sexual orientation. Unfortunately, on a daily basis people are faced with discrimination on one or more grounds, so called multiple discrimination. Currently, EU laws only protect people against one kind of experienced discrimination, for example sexual, racial and ethical origin, while accessing healthcare. Yet, experienced discrimination on multiple grounds, for example being a 45 year old pregnant woman, being discriminated on grounds of her age and sex are yet not established in EU laws.

Everyone has the equal right to access and receive healthcare, regardless how old they are, male or female, of Swedish or Spanish origin. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to identify barriers and experiences of discrimination preventing access of healthcare. Inequalities of healthcare should also be addressed by educating healthcare staff on how they can deal with the needs of vulnerable people.

2012-2015 Strategy for the Rights of the Child

Did you know that children make up one fifth of the population of the EU? 19% of children in the EU are at risk of poverty and everyday children are trafficked and victims of sexual abuse.

The Council of Europe adopted the new Strategy for the Rights of the Child on the 15thof February, 2012. Goal of the strategy is a successful implementation of existing children rights standards. Under the first two cycles (2006-2009 and 2009-2011) of the programme, the Council of Europe’s capacity to fulfil its mandate was strengthened, by setting up a multi-stakeholder platform on the rights of the child, children right’s were implemented in almost all policy areas, adoption of new policy guidelines and legislative and policy changes regarding children’s rights in member states. Policy changes were achieved through two campaigns focusing on the elimination of punishment of children and on stopping sexual violence against children. In addition, cooperation with international partners was increased. The EU Website on the Rights of the Child was launched to increase the access of appropriate information for children, providing background information and games on everyday rights, children in danger and other issues.

Challenges remain in the field of prevention, protection, provision and participation.

The four objectives of the strategy are:

1. promoting child-friendly services and systems;
2. eliminating all forms of violence against children;
3. guaranteeing the rights of children in vulnerable situations;
4. promoting child participation.

With the new strategic goals the rights of children should be increased and protected. Children are the future of the world and should have the same rights as adults.

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Revision of the medical device legislation

“In revising our regulatory system, we want to keep the positive aspects whilst remedying identified weaknesses and addressing future challenges.”
John Dalli, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy.

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Please watch video from 4.35 minutes onwards for Dalli’s statement on the medical device legislation.

Considering, the recent faulty breast implants scandal in Europe, 40,000 women affected alone in the UK, a revision of the medical device legislation is highly needed to tigthen controls, restore trust and increase patient safety. John Dalli, EU Commissioner for Health and consumer affairs urges for a review of Europe’s regulatory agencies and revision of the legislation. Directives 93/42/EEC and 98/79/ EC are affected. The Commission stated that the newly implemented measures will have a positive impact on surveillance of the European medical devices and diagnostics market.

In response to Dallis statement, Eucomed, which represents 22,500 medical technology companies in Europe, agreed to support the Commission in revising the medical devices legislation. “After analyzing the Commission’s proposal, Eucomed believes the measures are balanced and appropriate and will have a positive effect on patient safety,” it said in a statement. They suggest a legal framework that provides a consistent, EU-wide regulatory approach through improved coordination, evaluation and certification of medical devices; consistent and comprehensive implementation across all EU Member States, as well as efficient vigilance and market surveillance systems.