Every EU government should prioritise healthcare because only healthy citizens can be a driving force of economic growth, Gabriele Grom, vice president of pharmaceutical company MSD for Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), told EURACTIV Croatia.
“Investments in healthcare should start being perceived as a necessity,” she emphasised in an interview.
But Grom said reforms could not be implemented universally considering that EU member states have their own specific needs. However, she said that more adaptive access frameworks are needed, as well as the willingness to find solutions with the industry.
“All governments should start working towards tailor-made and long-term frameworks,” she said.
Grom cited Belgium as a practical example. “When assessing the health and budget impact, innovative treatments in cancer may add in Belgium over 6,000 life years over the next five years. Thanks to innovative agreements which provide earlier access, the life years are likely to increase to 11,000,” she said.
Grom lives and works in Austria, a crossroad between Western and Central Eastern Europe (CEE).
“I know how my family and friends are treated in Austria, and I am fully aware of existing inequalities in neighbouring countries,” she said, adding that life expectancy in Central and Eastern Europe is up to five years lower than in the countries of Western Europe.
“Unfortunately, according to the most recent data, four out of 10 Bulgarian cancer patients are alive after their cancer diagnosis. That number is 20% lower than in Sweden, where patients have much earlier access to innovation for treatment,” she added.
Grom said free access to healthcare does not guarantee the state of the art quality and innovation.
“Patients in CEE wait much longer for access to innovative treatments. In Poland, for example, patient access takes seven times longer than in their neighbour country Germany.”
Long waiting lists are certainly one of the biggest challenges CEE countries have been facing for decades.
Due to complex and overregulated red tape, lack of trained personnel and necessary equipment, those patients have to ‘wait in line’ for any service, diagnosis or treatments, which could significantly damage their prospect for a successful recovery.
“While patients in Austria can get treatment almost the very same day, as the treatment is approved by EMA, in Slovakia, for example, they have to wait up to three years,” said Grom.
Croatia’s presidency priorities
Croatia, the newest EU member state, which joined in 2013, will take over the EU Council Presidency for the very first time in January 2020.
According to the government, Zagreb plans to focus on organ transplantation policies, ageing challenges, and patients’ security.
However, a special focus will be put on oncology, considering the increasing number of cancer patients annually.
“We will gather all of the prominent healthcare professionals, EU representatives and international organisations in order to ensure the visibility and awareness of cancer,” Croatian Ministry of Health recently said in a statement.
Grom said it was great that Croatia has prioritised oncology.
“We should all work together to create an environment in which patients have timely and equal access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in the EU,” she concluded.
The creation of an EU-wide cancer plan has been among the priorities of German Manfred Weber, the European People’s Party (EPP) lead candidate for the new Commission president. A similar view was expressed by Belgian MEP Lieve Wierinck in October 2018.
“Controlling cancer in Europe will require the investment of substantial resources and the effective coordination of national policies,” Wierinck told EURACTIV.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos]