(This blog text relates to the EHFG session “Closing the evidence-practice gap on NCDs, Friday“, 2 October 2020)
Cancer is one of the biggest public health challenges across the European Union (EU) member states; it is the second leading cause of death in the EU. In accordance with the estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in the next decades we can expect about 100 million new cancer cases in the member states in total.
Did COVID 19 convert all of us to recognize the importance of health for Europe? – Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, Director, Division of Country Health Policies and Systems, WHO Regional Office for Europe introduced the session with a convincing plea advocating for the importance of resilience, social capital, resistance as well as civil engagement as principles of democracy in action. Societal engagement must be at the core of political action in Europe to strengthen health democracy. Yet in practice this is not easy, how should this participation look like? Many governments are not convinced that such participatory approach is needed. However, participatory systems are fair and responsive, but need years of building trust and relationships. It requires considerable efforts and active engagement of politicians, interest groups and societal bodies to build a living democracy.
Can elephants run? Scientific research provides controversial answers, but the COVID-19 pandemic is proving that they can. The elephants we are talking about here are pharmaceutical industries, academia, governments and the European Commission. They have joined forces in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, development – although not completed yet – has been extremely fast.
It is probably the first time in history, as also noted by Mikael Dolsten, Chief Scientific Officer, Pfizer, that within the same year, we are able to reach the phase three of a clinical trial for a new drug. Dolsten continues, by the end of October, thanks to the joint efforts of science and technology, we will have the first interim analysis.
Achieving affordability of medicines has been highlighted amongst the key objectives of the upcoming Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe, however, the Commission plans to ignore a key obstacle to achieve this goal: the issue of high prices of novel treatments. ‘We will not solve the dilemma, and high-priced medicines will remain unanswered’ said Andrzej Rys, Director of the Health Systems and Products Directorate at DG SANTE.
The convenient blame game between the Commission and Member States over who is responsible is not new and flows both ways. In this case, the Commission regularly points to the fact that pricing is the domain of the Member States and there is not much they can do there. Wrong. Pharmaceuticals are largely regulated at the EU level and pricing strategies start in the early R&D phase.
The past few months have revealed unprecedented challenges including a lack of health coverage, access to adequate care, and infrastructure challenges both within and outside the health system. The measures taken to help curb COVID-19 are likely to have an impact not only on the population’s general health, but also on their economic and social wellbeing. Already, the first phase of the pandemic has revealed a number of alarming trends:
With many health services put on hold, we are witnessing a severe delay in diagnosis, treatment and support for people living with chronic conditions.
The impact on mental health due to the seriousness of the emerging situation and challenges faced from isolation, social engagement and employment changes.
The pandemic has shed-light on long-existing, deeply rooted inequalities, which will likely worsen as a consequence of implemented restrictions.