EU ‘running against the wind’ on health policies

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SPECIAL REPORT / Public health should become part of the common EU policies and legislation “in a very structured way”, argues Bulgarian MEP Antonyia Parvanova, rapporteur on the Transparency Directive aimed at speeding up the entry into the market of new medicines.

Parvanova, a physician who is a member of the Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, told EurActiv that the Union should adopt policies centred on citizen’s health, education and basic rights.

The EU has so far been focused on protecting the economic interests of various industry sectors, largely forgetting the citizens, she said.

“Just 30-35% [of EU citizens] are interested in voting in European elections, which means that European decisionmakers do not deliver. To get better confidence from EU citizens, we have to work on different issues, not just protecting somebody’s apples, somebody’s wine, somebody’s milk, cereals, cars, etc.,” Parvanova said.

More money for alcohol than for health

Parvanova gave as an example the Commission's proposed Health for Growth programme to promote health and increase access to better and safer healthcare, which has a €300-million budget for 2014-2020, or €50 million annually for 28 member states - Croatia is due to join on 1 July 2013.

"At the same time, the annual budget of the alcohol companies for marketing and promotion only in the UK for one year is €800 million. Only in the UK. So we are running against the wind,” the MEP said.

Parvanova, who is also preparing a report on health literacy, said that this subject has long been neglected in EU policy-making.

She said that a recent report under an EU-financed project led by Maastricht University has made “shocking revelations” that many people in EU countries have “dangerous” and “irrelevant” ideas about what is good for their health.

“If the people do not understand correctly topics related to their health and what they should do about themselves, then we are exposing at risk all our public health programmes. And whatever is the financing, if the people do not understand, if they do not follow, if they do not appreciate, then we will still have failures,” Parvanova said.

She also regretted notions that vaccinations are a bad thing.

“Because of failure in vaccinations, tuberculoses is on the rise and some other diseases as well. We do not cover our elderly people with vaccination and they unnecessarily are exposed to the different flu epidemics,” Parvanova said.

The proposed Transparency Directive is aimed at speeding up new medicines. As rapporteur, she faced a barrage of lobbyists, and she told them that the European Parliament would “play with open cards” and consult with all stakeholders, including civil society, doctors and patient organisations.

Parvanova is hopeful that the EU would be able to come up “with very good quality piece of legislation” that addresses concerns about prescription pricing and reimbursement.

Click here to read the full text of the interview.

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