People-centred healthcare arrives at the European Parliament

“Integrated people-centred health services means empowering people to take charge of their own health rather than being passive receivers," said MEP Lidia Pereira. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

This article is part of our special report Empowering patients for a better health.

A different approach to healthcare looping around health needs and expectations of people rather than diseases was touched on in an event at the European Parliament, where participants and speakers called for more patient empowerment in the EU health agenda.

People-centred health services adopt the perspectives of individuals, their families and communities where they live in, considering patients more as participants and beneficiaries of a trusted health system.

The aspect of the quality in healthcare and well-being is becoming crucial as a new emphasis is shifting to the challenges of high survivorship, rehabilitation and continuity of care.

In an event at the European Parliament organised by AHF Europe, representatives from national parliaments, civil society and stakeholders shared their views on how the concept of ensuring better health by putting the individual at the core could be better spread.

Evidence collected from HIV, tuberculosis or sexually transmitted infections cases showed that health systems targeting the needs of people and communities are more effective, as they improve health literacy and patient engagement, making them better prepared to respond to health prices.

“Multi-sectoral approach, patient-centred care and social inclusion are pillars of more efficient and more sustainable European health services,” said Portuguese MEP Lidia Pereira, a fresh face from Europe’s People Party (EPP).

She stressed that a multi-sectoral approach is slowly entering in the European decision-making process. For instance, health programs financing is already linked to European social funds.

Pereira also mentioned the possibility to integrate future funds under the EU research program Horizon Europe through the European Commission’s services.

Regarding the people-centred approach, she said that lots of policymakers are actually not aware of what the concept means, despite its simple meaning.

“Integrated people-centred health services means putting people and communities, not diseases at the heart of health systems, empowering people to take charge of their own health rather than being passive receivers,” she explained.

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The importance of networking

The challenge of providing better health requires also an urgent political action among the decision-makers and global policy champions, according to Georgian MP Mariam Jashi.

She said that national parliaments could make a difference deciding on budgetary allocations, a role that is often underestimated.

“National lawmakers can have an increasingly important role in interfering both on priority setting and budget allocation and they also have a unique position as an interface with civil society and other stakeholders,” she added.

Jashi is a member of UNITE, a non-partisan initiative that tries to bring together global policymakers and national parliamentarians for fighting infectious diseases on a global stage.

UNITE identifies some priority areas, including the reform of national healthcare policies, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) both at the regional and global level and vaccination policies in response to the global infectious disease challenges.

Priority countries of intervention for UNITE ranges from sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern and Central Europe, as well as Central Asia to Latin America, with a focus on vulnerable population groups, sustainable development goals (SDGs) application, outbreak and preparedness control,

WHO push

In 2016 the 69th World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on strengthening integrated people-centred in WHO member states’ health systems, supporting a ‘Framework on integrated people-centred health services’.

The resolutions asked WHO countries to make their healthcare systems more responsive to people needs, preferences and expectations.

Something was being done before, but something definitely moved at the country level after this push by the WHO assembly.

“Lithuania, for example, applies some good practice regarding the integrated care, such as provision of prevention, social and rapid testing (for HIV and hepatitis C) services,” said socialist Juozas Olekas, another newcomer in the European Parliament who is also a surgeon.

The linkage to the health services for vulnerable populations is ensured by the collaboration of healthcare workers and non-government organizations, although those efforts still need to be applied at the larger scale in order to make an impact on the overall system of welfare, he explained.

“Today the HIV epidemic still spreads among the vulnerable populations, he continued, adding that the lack of education and awareness about this problem, the limited confidence in the health professionals are complicating the access to preventive and diagnostic services.

“This is the main reason why the virus has not yet been contained,” Olekas concluded.

Although lower than in neighbouring countries, the HIV epidemic did not receive a lot of political attention in Lithuania and more than 50% of new HIV diagnoses are reported too late.

In February 2018, an order from Lithuania’s Ministry of Health following a written request by Olekas himself and MP Dovile Sakaliene expanded the use of antiretroviral treatment (ART). In prisons, for example, ART is now reimbursed from the State Health Insurance Fund.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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