The EU must act to reduce the crippling economic burden of musculo-skeletal disorders (MSDs), accounting for almost half of all work absences and costing the bloc €240 billion each year, warned an alliance of politicians, doctors and experts in Brussels yesterday (30 September).
Research carried out for the 'Fit for Work Europe Coalition' has revealed that 100 million Europeans – one in five – suffer from conditions affecting bones, joints and connective tissue, with over 40 million workers affected.
The direct cost of MSDs within the EU is estimated to be as much as 2% of gross domestic product (GDP).
According to the coalition, this burden on Europe’s economies can be reduced through prevention, early intervention and sharing of best practice – but this will require political support at European and national level.
In spite of public spending cuts since the recession, MSDs must become a highest priority for health and work ministries across the EU or the situation will worsen, argued the group.
"Today, we call for the European Union and national governments to make MSDs a priority in health policy," said Bulgarian MEP Antonia Parvanova (ALDE), a co-president of the coalition. ''Only through concerted action, based on evidence and sound policy choices can we improve the working lives of those living with chronic MSDs,'' she stated.
''It is critical that we adopt policies that keep people living with chronic conditions in work,'' said Professor Paul Emery, president of European League Against Rheumatism, who noted that therapy for arthritic conditions runs into the thousands of euros. ''If you treat late, you have to treat for a lifetime,'' he added.
Wanted: Council recommendation
Health policy being a national competence, the Fit for Work Europe Coalition will target the EU’s health ministers for political action. ''The national level is really where the action is,'' admitted founding president Stephen Bevan.
The group wants a Council Recommendation on MSDs by 2011, which would encourage specific national action plans to tackle the issue. The coalition will also be a guest at the Belgian EU Presidency’s meeting of health ministers on 20 October, where it will call for commitments from the member states on binding plans for the prevention and management of MSDs.
MEP: long-term action must be considered
Asked by EURACTIV whether member states can improve treatment of MSDs when cutting back on public spending, Antonia Parvanova rued the lack of debate about the sustainability of healthcare systems and called on politicians to consider the future when making decisions – not just their time in government.
''This is a crucial issue, because most of the governments made cuts to their health budgets during the crisis – which will have a significant long-term impact on the health of the population. […] In the short term it will probably save the head of the finance minister, but in the long term the price will be paid by citizens,'' lamented the MEP.