This article is part of our special report Empowering patients for a better health.
The Finnish presidency’s approach on the economy of wellbeing was a milestone for a successful reorientation of health services towards a multisectoral approach in designing, building and delivering people-centred care, said Anna Żakowicz, director of programs at AHF Europe, an international health NGO.
In an interview with EURACTIV, she said the process of empowering patients should be supported by political commitment, and added that the Finnish demand to include health in other policy sectors was a step in the right direction.
“It will probably be a long journey and it requires regulatory strategies to be developed for creating a legal mandate and platform for engagement to do so. I do hope it will get sufficient momentum in the EU in the next few years,” she said.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organisation which provides cutting-edge medicines and advocacy in 42 countries worldwide, dealing mostly with the HIV epidemic.
Given that access to quality treatment for everybody who lives with HIV on this planet has not been secured, patient empowerment continues to be a question of life and death and is therefore as crucial now as it was in the early days of the pandemic.
“Without patients’ fight for research in HIV and fight for availability and affordability of HIV medications, we would not be where we are right now,” Żakowicz said.
According to her, the lessons learned from patients’ involvement in HIV are important for other diseases, especially for moving research agendas and ensuring access to treatment is possible.
“Their lesson was to be bold, to be engaged and to fight for your community. It is a victory of voice, presence and determination, which underlines the need to stand for what is right,” she said.
But what is required now is not only HIV treatment but also needs-based services and more people-centred care approaches. “The fight continues,” she said.
AHF Europe is advocating for a multisectoral approach for better health of European citizens who are affected by HIV and other diseases, which takes into account the perspectives of individuals.
The framework of integrated, people-centred health services was adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2016.
According to AHF Europe, the European Commission should foster collaboration between member states, individuals and communities, academic institutions, student associations, private sector, health insurers and other stakeholders to promote exchange and development of people-centred care agenda for EU.
“The Commission can also support the development of options for people-centred health systems by convening an expert panel on effective ways of investing in health,” Żakowicz said.
The renewal process of the Action Plan on EU Health Workforce gives an opportunity to add focus on the delivery of people-centred care and describe the concepts of co-production of health, task shifting and complementary and alternative medicine.
“An approach which aligns with the educational sector needs to be included there as well,” she added.
Prospective developments right now include Council Conclusions on the Economy of Wellbeing that encourage the countries to put the economy of wellbeing in the centre of policy design.
The current initiative by various MEPs to advance the formation of an Intergroup focusing on the Economy of Wellbeing at the European Parliament should provide the space to develop the approaches of people-centred care even further.
“Thinking about the future, I am optimistic,” she said.
Co-production of health services
In order to be able to move forward with people-centred care approaches, different stakeholders to need to collaborate while governments and ministers of finance need to secure adequate funding for reforms and implementation research, Żakowicz pointed out.
Communities, individuals and civil society organisations should, therefore, be involved in developing services which focus on patient empowerment and advocacy.
“The educational sector, as well as academic and training institutions, will need to play an important role in developing new professional curricula for the health workforce,” she added.
Education will be an important part of the equation as getting back to notions of self-care and health education in the society is needed.
“In particular, integration of services is an important part of people-centred care, urban and rural areas planning are crucial to ensure equity in accessing quality care,” she said.
When asked if a difference between Eastern and Western countries persists when it comes to healthcare, she said it is part of the historic reality of EU countries, which had an inevitable influence on the economy and therefore affected health services.
“It is important to learn, exchange experience with colleagues that work in Western Europe,” she said. “As some countries in Western Europe have experience with implementing people-centred services, this sharing would be very beneficial.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]