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Is health truly a European value? (Guest blog)

Over the past five years, it has become less frequent to hear someone comment health is not a competency of the EU in the Brussels bubble. Previously used as justification for health decision-making to remain at the national level, this static interpretation has been increasingly challenged as the success of the European collaboration continues to shed light on its future potential.
 
What began as an effort to pool coal and steel production with the hope of minimising potential for conflict across a historically war-torn continent, has developed into a Union dedicated to promoting democracy and human dignity. Our future will depend on our ability to harness better collaboration for better coordinated outcomes through the good times and the bad.
 
Now, more than ever, a ‘health in all policies’ approach is needed to ensure our economies and citizens continue to thrive. Directly promoting health policies to reinstate the EU as a global innovator will allow for a future based on prevention, timely and equitable access to innovation, and better outcomes for citizens and patients across Europe. This will result in a healthier population, greater workforce participation, higher economic productivity, and more disposable income. Afterall, health is wealth.
 
The Future of Europe in a post-Covid world 
Over the past few months, inspired both professionally and personally, I’ve followed the conference on the Future of Europe. With health as one of the 10 working areas, following this conversation has been essential in understanding what it could mean for the sector, but as a European, I want to understand the ambition for the future of European health.
 
The Conference on the Future of Europe has been a space for open, participative, and transnational debate, bringing together citizens and stakeholders to discuss our European future. Presented on 9 May, the final report builds on our core values and provides guidance for the future of our Union. This comes after an intense period in which the EU has had to adapt and address new threats to stability (recessions, terrorism, pandemics, war), while promoting sustainably and growth. As we talk about our future, are we doing enough to make sure we are including health as a priority? Are we incorporating the learnings from these new threats?
 
Health as part of the economy
There is a tendency to focus on building the future in strict economic terms, often leaving the role health plays in supporting our economies understated, if not overlooked entirely. Not only is the healthcare sector important for boosting the economy, its output is also key to bolstering the potential of our labour force, increasing productivity and overall GDP.
 
The research-based pharmaceutical industry is one of the main drivers of the healthcare sector, constituting approximately 10% of the European workforce. This high technology sector not only produces the strongest added value per person employed, buy also generates three times more indirect employment, secures a strong knowledge-base in Europe and prevents brain-drain. In fact, investing in better health could add up to $12 trillion to global GDP in 2040, a whopping eight percent boost to our economies.
 
The EU is working to promote efforts reimagining and developing healthcare policies through a number of initiatives, such as the Beating Cancer Plan, the Pharmaceutical Strategy and the European Health Data Space. It is imperative that focus remains on promoting innovation and developing medicines, even in a climate where the EU’s research and development base has been gradually eroding. Research forms the basis of our understanding of science and healthcare and investing back into this helps us realise our goal of health is wealth.
 
Digitalisation as a driver for change
Nowadays, the most significant innovation in healthcare is supported by collaboration between sectors, this innovation helps to advance medicines as well as improving efficiency and patient outcomes. In particular, digitalization will determine the future of healthcare – to what end and how quickly will be another consideration for the Conference.
 
As such, and to develop our capabilities smoothly and equally across the Union, we need to define digital standards and solutions at EU level. Digitalization has the potential to reduce inequalities as it can bring healthcare closer to home for the patient, by improving personalised medicine, while also empowering patients to take their treatments into their own hands. In our efforts, in the digital transformation of healthcare, it is paramount to take a cross-sectoral approach, combining innovation in health with innovation in technology.
 
Our future of Europe
Since launching 70 years ago, the European collaboration has had to adapt to many different challenges and with each adaptation came a new focus. The pandemic has shown us how much we can achieve when there is political will. We can act together, efficiently and rapidly developing an ecosystem that supports innovation.
 
The pandemic has thrust health collaboration to the forefront of the EU agenda, demonstrating the positive impact of better healthcare solutions for both Member States and citizens. The wheels of change are turning and we should continue this momentum to ensure health becomes enshrined as a European value. Our message is simple: health belongs at the heart of the European collaboration.
 

Ivana Cattaneo

Ivana Cattaneo is Chair of the EFPIA Oncology Platform. She works as Public Affairs Director Oncology Europe at...
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