Health Brief, powered by PPTA Europe: A not so healthy EU French Presidency

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Last week, Emmanuel Macron presented his priorities for the EU French presidency, which kicks off on 1 January 2022. Spoiler alert: health didn’t make the top 3. In fact, it didn’t even make the top 5.

Instead, this next chapter of EU presidencies, the motto of which will be “recovery, power, and belonging,” will place an accent ‘aigu’ – French would say – on digital, environment, social and defence.  

Perhaps you are (legitimately) wondering where health comes into things, which seems reasonable considering that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. 

And you wouldn’t be the only one. 

“The COVID health crisis is still in the headlines, but the French Presidency has forgotten health among its priorities”, French Green MEP Michèle Rivasi told EURACTIV. 

But, as they like to say here in the EU bubble, the devil is in the details, and there are some health priorities for the presidency – if you know where to find them.

Before digging in, though, it is important to point out that the French presidency will happen in a rather particular context given that it will coincide with the presidential election, set for 24 April 2022, with the campaign for candidates already well underway. 

Even though Emmanuel Macron has not announced if he will – or won’t – run for the presidency, critics say the EU French presidency will be a”huge fiction”, as MEP François-Xavier Bellamy told Le Figaro. 

After Slovenia, France will hold the EU presidency leading the Council of the European Union – which together with the European Parliament is responsible for EU lawmaking – for six months from January to June 2022. 

As a refresher, the so-called ‘rotating presidency’ of the Council of the EU allows member states to put on the agenda topics they would like to see in the spotlight. 

So, where are health priorities hiding?

EU-Africa relationships 

First up, Africa. Macron emphasised the importance of relationships between the EU and the African continent, stressing the role of Europe as “a pioneer” to help Africa, where only 6% of the population is vaccinated, in its response to COVID-19. 

Macron promised solidarity with the Covax and the ACTA mechanisms, as well as “a real health agenda that consists of deploying much faster and much stronger structures for producing vaccines and a primary health system.”

His words may sound good on paper but prompted public outcry. 

For example, the Green group at the European Parliament pointed out that France does not support the Parliament’s demand to lift patents on vaccines in an online statement.

Meanwhile, MEPs from the Left accused Macron of “protecting the interests of big pharma in the midst of a global pandemic”.  

The topic raises tensions on a national level as well. On Monday (12th December), Green candidate for presidential election Yannick Jadot called the COVID mechanism “an absolute mess”. 

“We don’t even know how many doses are leaving,” he added, quoting the European Commission.

Increase European production in health sector 

Second, Europe. Later in his speech, the French president said he would make Europe a  “great continent of production and innovation by creating  “strong industrial sectors.“  

More information will be given during a summit in March, but Macron has already announced the main fields concerned: hydrogen, batteries, space, semiconductors, cloud, defence, culture and… health.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the strong dependence of Europe to obtain medicines or medical supplies, including things like masks and respirators. 

To tackle the issue, Macron will encourage  “European purchasing by creating investment plans. 

This French Presidency must be the opportunity to imagine a new European model which is a model of production, but also of solidarity and regulation, he said. 

In its pharmaceutical strategy, the Commission prepared the ground for a proposal to reduce the risk of shortages caused by over-reliance on third-country medicine production.

Digital health 

Lastly, digital and technologies. Following announcements on the Digital Market Act (DMA) and the Digital Services Act (DSA) Emmanuel Macron said he would develop digital health by reinforcing Europe as a digital powerhouse. 

The goal during the French presidency is  “to succeed in obtaining European funding for our most innovative start-ups and digital players, by mobilising our institutional investors, Macron precise. 

A very topical debate given that the European Commission adopted the Regulation on Health Technology Assessment (HTA) on Tuesday (14th December), a deliverable of the EU Pharmaceutical Strategy to develop innovative health technologies. 

Finally, Emmanuel Macron briefly mentioned a  “real joint research agency and major research plans, for example on Alzheimer’s, but without more details as the official programme isn’t revealed yet.

One last detail: the EPSCO EU Council gathering the 27 EU health ministers will take place in Grenoble on February 9th and 10th. 

While the Commission and the member states advocate the free circulation of health data, citizens and MEPs want to see action on the fight against drug shortages and the lifting of patents on vaccines and treatments,” concluded Green MEP Michèle Rivasi.

(C.B.)

 

 


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HTA

Health technology assessment approval. On Tuesday (14 December), the Regulation on Health Technology Assessment (HTA) was adopted. The new rules aim to make vital and innovative health technologies more accessible across the bloc. 

The Regulation is also designed to ensure the efficient use of resources, strengthen the quality of HTA across the EU, and save national HTA bodies and industry from duplicating their efforts, reassure business and ensure the long-term sustainability of EU HTA cooperation.

“Its implementation will be crucial not only in order to reach the objectives of EU’s Pharmaceutical Strategy and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, but also to enhance coordination at EU level in the field of health,” said health commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

The regulation will apply from January 2025, but the implementing work starts now, including the setting up of the necessary governance structure and preparatory documents to ensure effective application from this date.

Cancer

Beating cancer. The “Strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer” report was adopted by the European Parliament’s special committee on cancer control (BECA) last week, laying down measures to tackle the disease. The report aims to strengthen coordination between EU countries to combat inequalities in the fight against cancer. 

“We cannot accept that inequalities in access to diagnosis and treatment persist”, BECA committee chair Bartosz Arłukowicz (EPP) said in a press release. The main calls for action from the report include taking stronger EU action to address key risk factors and social determinants of cancer and extending screening schemes.

Platform to increase access to childhood cancer medicines. On Monday (13 December), the World Health Organisation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (USA) announced plans to establish a platform to increase access to childhood cancer medicines around the world. 

The Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines, the first of its kind, will provide an uninterrupted supply of quality-assured childhood cancer medicines to low-and middle-income countries. St. Jude is making a six-year, $200 million investment to launch the platform, which will provide medicines at no cost to countries participating in the pilot phase. This is the largest financial commitment for a global effort in childhood cancer medicines to date.

COVID-19

Omicron. As of 13 December, 920 additional Omicron cases have been confirmed in the EU and European Economic Area (EU/EEA), contributing to an overall total of 1 686 confirmed cases so far. Confirmed cases have been reported by 23 EU/EEA countries, while a number of probable cases have been reported in several countries.

The EU medicines watchdog said Thursday (9 December) that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 may cause milder disease, as the WHO warned against a rerun of vaccine hoarding by rich nations as the new strain spreads. The tentative judgement from the European Medicines Agency comes after the WHO said this week there was some evidence that Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, the currently dominant variant.

Outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities. A new ECDC study in Eurosurveillance was published on Thursday (9 December), revealing that there are still risks for outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities (LTCFs) in EU/EEA countries despite high vaccination rates among residents and staff. The study analysed data from 240 outbreaks of coronavirus disease, which occurred between July and October 2021 in LTCFs with high vaccination coverage, reported by 10 EU/EEA countries. Data reveal that of 17,268 residents, there had been 3,832 (22%) COVID-19 reported cases, of which 17% were hospitalised and 10% died.

COVID survey. Euroconsumers released the results of their survey on consumers’ opinions and expectations related to COVID-19 vaccination and passports this week. The survey carried out in the second week of November in Belgium, Portugal, Spain and Italy showed that 2 out of 3 respondents are in favour of mandatory vaccination for adults, while 74% are concerned about the scarcity of vaccines and tests in developing countries.  

Moreover, only 26% believe that the purchasing process of COVID-19 vaccines was well handled by the EU, with 1 out of 4 believing the EU prioritised pharmaceutical companies’ interests over those of European citizens. 

Other findings showed that half of the respondents agree the EU COVID Certificate is an efficient measure to move freely within the EU. However, a third says that the different national rules (such as the number of vaccinations, age limit, etc.) complicated the use of it. 

Finally, 30% believe coronavirus is as deadly as common flu, while 1 in 3 believe it was released by the Chinese government to destroy Western economies and 1 in 4 that it was created in a lab so that the pharmaceutical industry can sell vaccines. 

Poverty.  A 2021 global monitoring report published on Sunday (12 December) shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to halt two decades of global progress towards Universal Health Coverage. The organisations also reveal that more than half a billion people are being pushed into extreme poverty because they have to pay for health services out of their own pockets.

Certificates. COVID-19 certification led to increased vaccination uptake 20 days before and 40 days after introduction in countries with lower-than-average vaccination coverage, according to a modelling study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The first study examining the impact of COVID-19 certification introduction on vaccine uptake in six countries found that countries starting at lower-than-average COVID-19 vaccine coverage, France, Israel, Italy, Switzerland, experienced a large uptick in vaccination. 

On the other hand, no significant effect was found in Germany where vaccine coverage was already high, or in Denmark where vaccine supply was limited, while increased uptake was most pronounced in people under 30. It also found that, when restrictions were applied to only nightclubs and large events in Switzerland, the largest increases were among the under 20s.

ECDC

Memorandum of understanding: On Monday (13 December) during a virtual event, Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and Heon Joo Kim, Vice Commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the two agencies.

The objective of this MoU is to deepen and expand the technical collaboration between ECDC and KDCA on matters of mutual interest in the field of communicable disease control and prevention, with a focus on health security. This cooperation will be achieved through information exchange and increased collaboration.

Zoonotic diseases

COVID silver lining. The annual EU One Health report showed a “remarkable” drop in reported zoonotic diseases in humans and foodborne outbreaks in 2020, which researchers put down in large part to the measures taken to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.  The number of reported zoonotic diseases in humans decreased from between 7% to 53% depending on the reported disease in question, while the number of reported foodborne outbreaks also fell by almost half.

Alzheimer’s disease

In a special report, EURACTIV’s health team looked at patient involvement in research on dementia, which has shown to be mutually beneficial, both to the quality of medical studies and to people’s rights to be involved in relevant research about their own condition, according to health experts.

In another story, we reported on the complex but stimulating transposition of research outcomes into digital products and services, a process that could move the needle in diagnosing Alzheimer early but also in improving the quality of life of patients.

ALBANIA 

Albania worst in Europe for access to fertility treatments. Albania provides “exceptionally poor” access to fertility treatment for citizens, ranking last out of 43 other European and Western countries, according to the European Atlas of Fertility Treatment Policies. By  Alice Taylor |  EURACTIV.com with exit.al

BRUSSELS

COVID certificates will force booster shots. Updating the COVID-19 digital certificate with a booster dose will “inevitably force”  EU member states behind in vaccination rates to catch up, an EU minister told EURACTIV.com amid talks over bloc-wide mandatory vaccination. By  Aneta Zachová, Eleonora Vasques, Georgi Gotev, Oliver Noyan and Sarantis Michalopoulos |  EURACTIV.bg, EURACTIV.com, EURACTIV.cz and EURACTIV.de

PARIS

France opens vaccination to 360,000 at-risk children. Vaccination will open from 15 December for 360,000 children between 5-11 years old and at risk of contracting severe forms of the virus, Prime Minister announced after Monday’s health defence council. By  Nelly Moussu |  EURACTIV.fr

VIENNA

Austria’s lockdown for the vaccinated ended on Monday (13 December). The lockdown for vaccinated people ended Monday (13 December), Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer had announced, but unvaccinated people will still have to comply with lockdown measures. By  Oliver Noyan |  EURACTIV.de

MADRID

Spain starts vaccinating children aged 5-11 as experts warn of ‘fear of needles’. Spain will begin vaccinating children aged between 5-11 from Wednesday, 15 December. Meanwhile, experts have cautioned of the challenge of overcoming children’s “fear of needles”. By  Fernando Heller |  EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es

SARAJEVO 

People across EU use forged COVID certificates from BiH. Several forged COVID certificates with false signatures and stamps from Hercegbosna county, near the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), were discovered in Croatia and other EU countries. The forged certificates are being used by people who are not willing to vaccinate, according to a police investigation.

Only about a quarter of people in BiH have been vaccinated against COVID-19. At the same time, BiH ranks third behind Peru and Bulgaria, according to a global database of COVID-19-related deaths per million inhabitants.  (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

LISBON

Portugal plans to donate another four million COVID vaccines. Portugal plans to donate another four million COVID-19 vaccines to Portuguese-speaking countries, bringing the total to six million so far, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said on Tuesday. By  Joana Haderer |  Lusa.pt

ATHENS

Greece decreases to 3 months recovery certificate. The Greek government has decided to decrease the validity of COVID-19 recovery certificates from six to three months, the ministry of health has announced. This measure is added to a series of moves to curb the Delta variant and prepare for the emerging Omicron variant. (EURACTIV.gr)

ROME

Italy sees rise in COVID-19 cases as anti-vaxxers cost country €50 million. COVID-19 cases rose 22.4% over the last seven days in Italy, an increase of 22.4%, according to the Gimbe Foundation. A 12% increase in deaths and 16.3% of hospitalisations were also recorded. By  Eleonora Vasques |  EURACTIV.com

Events

On Monday (13 December) The EU Commission opened feedback for three initiatives on the labelling of food and alcohol. The deadline – March 7th.

On Wednesday (15 December) presentation of the Healthier together – EU NCD Initiative, launched by the Commission to help Member States reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases.

WHO will hold the 10th Global Conference on Health Promotion on 13–15 December 2021. 

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