Andriukaitis: Health isn’t an expenditure

Vytenis Andriukaitis [European Commission]

Health should be in all policy areas, Vytenis Andriukaitis, the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said in a speech on Thursday (16 July), in which he outlined his priorities until 2019.

Though most member states have made deep cuts to their health budgets in recent years due to the financial crisis, governments need to see health as an investment rather than an expenditure, Andriukaitis said at an event organised by the European Policy Centre. 

“We need a paradigm shift in health policy and the way we finance, organise and operate our health systems, with a very strong focus on disease prevention and health promotion. There is an economic reasoning behind this. The more health systems invest in public health, the less they will spend on treatment,” the Commissioner stated.

The real expenditure comes from risk factors such as high levels of obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol abuse and smoking, according to Andriukaitis.

“The burden of chronic diseases needs to be addressed by the whole of society and by all policies. In my opinion the risk factors must be counted as part of the health expenditure. Just promoting good health is not enough. Just making the case for not smoking or not abusing alcohol, eating well and excersicing is not enough,” he added.

>>Read: Health NGOs walk out of EU alcohol forum

The Commissioner is bound by the Treaty to push for the inclusion of health in all policy areas, he said, and to ensure that the health of Europeans citizens is put first, a commitment Andriukaitis first made to the Parliament during his hearing in September 2014.

But since then, with the new Commission’s introduction of the ‘Better Regulation’ agenda designed to cut red tape and change laws to make them more cost-effective, many health and environment NGOs as well as officials within the executive, argued that it is slowing down on important health matters.

Health NGOs have pointed out that the Commission delayed work on a new EU-wide strategy to tackle alcohol-related, harm and is now considering including alcohol issues under a broader plan to tackle chronic diseases.

Old alcohol strategy ‘not effective’

“I have taken notice of the Parliament calling for a European strategy on alcohol and in recent discussions. I am encouraged to see member states coorperating to reduce alcohol abuse. In this context, I’m holding discussions in the Commission about finding the best way to support member states’ work and foster cooperation at an EU level. At this stage, the Commission has not taken a decision on which way to go,” Andriukaitis responded.

The old alcohol strategy was not effective, the ex-physician stressed. “We must find more effective ways to deal with both alcohol consumption and abuse.”

>>Read: EU health chief rejects ‘conspiracy theories’ on hormone-affecting chemicals

Instead, the Commissioner wants a comprehensive plan that both brings down alcohol consumption, and tackles risk factors for alcohol abuse.

Andriukaitis emphasised the need to manage alcohol advertising, particularly on the Internet, and would be open to discusing alcholic drinks under the EU’s food and drink labelling rules.

“I ask you to help me deliver real results,” he said. “It is simple: without help from civil society, NGOs, think tanks, I will not be able to reach my goals.”

In his confirmation hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels in September 2014, incoming Lithuanian Health and Food Safety Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said that “supporting universal health coverage, strengthening primary care, improving quality and safety, promoting e-health” will be among his priorities.

Andriukaitis also said that the EU would not lower its safety standards as result of negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), after MEPs expressed concern that the EU would loosen its rules on the use of hormones or antibiotics in livestock. These rules currently ban certain US exports to the European Union.

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