Cypriot Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides says ‘never again’ to lack of preparedness
THE European Commission, building on the lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis, has proposed “an ambitious and dedicated” funding programme of €9.4bn for the next seven years that is 23 times larger than the current one to raise preparedness and prevention to tackle serious cross-border health threats in the future.
The package, EU4Health, presented this week, comes as the EU bloc and the world in general are reeling from the crippling consequences of the coronavirus pandemic that has sustained a huge blow to national health systems and the global economy, and has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths.
The Covid-19 pandemic has showcased that more coordination was needed between member states during health crises and more investment in health systems.
“Even before the crisis we had identified an investment gap, and this crisis compounded the need. The crisis has not changed our priorities but is calling for us to do more,” Cypriot Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides told the Sunday Mail. In order to achieve this, she said, “we need to mobilise all our instruments, at a national and EU level.”
“We are stepping up to these challenges with an over 2,000 per cent budget increase compared to current resources for health. This will allow us to face the challenges brought to light by the crisis, but also to invest in EU health systems for the future,” she said.
According to Kyriakides the first objective is to be better prepared to react and protect EU citizens should a similar cross-border crisis hit in the future.
This means ensuring that, at all times, the necessary protective equipment, medicines and medical devices are available, and ensure that they are affordable and innovative.
“Never again do we want to see our health care workers having to choose which patient receives lifesaving equipment,” Kyriakides said.
EU4Health will enable the bloc, for the first time, she said, to create strategic stockpiles, “so we can plan ahead and have reserves in case of crises.”
It will also enable the bloc to provide expert advice and technical assistance in case of a health crisis thus complementing the capacity under rescEU for emergency response in a more strategic and forward looking way.
“Let us make sure we use the next seven years to become better prepared, healthier and more resilient, both individually and collectively,” Kyriakides said.
The main objectives of the EU4Health programme are to protect people in the EU from serious cross-border health threats and improve crisis management capacity and to make medicines, medical devices and other crisis relevant products, available and affordable and supporting innovation. The third main objective is to strengthen health systems and the health care workforce, including by investing in public health, for instance through health promotion and disease prevention programmes and improving access to healthcare.
“The new EU4Health programme will be a game changer, a real paradigm shift in how the EU deals with health, and a clear signal that the health of our citizens is more than ever before a priority for us,” Kyriakides had said this week during the press conference in Brussels on the programme in question.
This crisis, she said, has made clear that the bloc’s collective response capacity needs to be brought to a different level.
Kyriakides said she had had countless meetings with EU ministers, the European Parliament, stakeholders and scientists. “These exchanges and the lessons learnt from them inform our proposals,” she said.
The EU4Health programme, strives to make it possible for the EU to invest in creating reserves of medical supplies in case of a crisis, create a reserve of healthcare staff and experts that can be mobilised to prevent or respond to health crises throughout the EU, train healthcare professionals for deployment across the EU, step up surveillance of health threats, and improve the resilience of health systems to ensure better health outcomes for all.
But it is not only about crisis management as it aims strengthening national health systems, supporting and enabling member states to deliver better care for patients across the EU and help boost work on other health priorities, in particular the fight against cancer, reducing of the number of antimicrobial-resistant infections and improving vaccination.
“EU4Health means that we will be able to financially support ambitious actions to reduce inequalities in cancer screening and treatment across Europe,” the Commissioner had said this week.
It will also allow the bloc accelerate digital health capacity, cross-border health care and increase investment in disease prevention and health promotion but also upscale important existing tools such as the European Reference networks, now a reality in the area of rare diseases, and which will also be established to improve diagnosis and treatments of other diseases.