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Brussels, 6 April 2009

World Health Day: Commission highlights solidarity in health

To mark World Health Day, European Commissioner for Health, Androulla Vassiliou will visit several community health projects in Kenya on 6 and 7 April. These projects promote social and economic development through poverty alleviation and strengthening health and education. Improving health conditions and strengthening access to healthcare are important objectives for the European Union, both for its own citizens and within the EU's external cooperation. Commissioner Vassiliou taped a video message recalling the close links between health and productivity and the need to foster good health, especially in vulnerable groups, in particular in these times of economic crisis

From Nairobi, Commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, said: "Solidarity in health is a global issue. We need to work together with our African partners and step up action towards achieving the health related Millenium Development Goals. The work of civil society is crucial in this respect, and I have seen many examples of important projects improving people's health and quality of life. In Europe as well, we need to address the growing inequalities in health both within and between countries. "

The focus of this year's World Health Day is the safety of health facilities and the readiness of health workers who treat those affected by emergencies. Commissioner Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid said: "Save lives. Make hospitals safe in emergencies – the slogan of the 2009 World Health Day represents one of the key issues for the European Commission when supporting relief operations throughout the world. Around one quarter of the humanitarian assistance provided by the Commission since 1996, totalling more than €2 billion, was spent on basic health needs in crisis."

Investing in health

Commissioner Vassiliou will visit a medical centre run by 'Médecins Sans Frontiers' in the Kibera area of Nairobi. The Commissioner will also visit a medical centre and nursery school supported by the Social Foundation for Economic Development and the Orthodox Archbishopric of Kenya and Irinopolis. Training and education is key to a qualified health workforce. The visit will include the site of a proposed nursing training college which will specialise in cancer pain management. Many developing countries today are coping with the double burden of communicable (HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB) and non communicable diseases (heart disease, cancer). Nurses make up the bulk of healthcare workers in Kenya. Providing specialised training in palliative care and cancer pain management can assist health systems to better manage non communicable disease such as cancers.

The European Commission supports health improvements in the EU through different policy areas such as health, research and social protection programmes. An important mechanism is the structural funds, which provide 5 billion Euro to help fund poor regions to invest in health. The 'Europe for patients' campaign, launched in September 2008, highlights the importance of working together with Member States and pooling information, expertise and sharing practice in a number of healthcare related areas. For example; rare diseases, cancer, patient safety, organ donation and transplantation, antibiotic resistance and patients rights in cross border healthcare.

The European Commission spends almost half a billion Euro per year on health actions in its external cooperation. The actions form part of geographic cooperation as well as part of the thematic programme "Good health for all". This programme addresses three key health issues: support for strengthening health systems and services in response to the human resource crisis, support for the fight against the main communicable diseases (HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria) and neglected emerging diseases and, finally, support for implementation of the Cairo agenda on sexual and reproductive health.

Millenium Development Goals - Health

It is the poorest countries that suffer most from health-related development challenges, such as weak health infrastructure, high rates of poverty-related diseases, poor maternal health and unsatisfactory environmental conditions, all of which contribute to reduced life expectancy. Health issues also constitute a substantial part of the Millennium Development Goals (reducing child mortality, reducing maternal mortality and combat HIV/AIDS) which are the core of the EU's external aid.

To see Commissioner Vassiliou's video message:

For further information on external health cooperation and EU health actions

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