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Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health and Consumer Policy
Speech at the EU Open Health Forum 2010
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Opening speech at the EU Open Health Forum 2010
Brussels, Charlemagne building, 29 June 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first welcome you all to the Open Health Forum.
Today's conference brings together an impressive gathering of talent and expertise in health from across Europe.
I am particularly pleased that Dr JAKAB, the World Health Organisation's Director for Europe, is able to join us.
The Open Forum is an opportunity to discuss together progress made and what still needs to be done.
The European Commission is here to listen to you.
We are gathered here today under the motto of the EU Health Strategy – "Together for Health".
Indeed, to foster a Europe of Health many players and many policies need to work closely together. And this is why we are here.
Building synergies between policies and players is particularly important now that Europe is fighting a financial crisis. At a moment when governments seek to restore economic stability, there is a risk that health issues are sidelined.
Our EU 2020 strategy aims to build a Europe of sustainable growth and inclusive growth. Where does health fit in?
I believe investment in health means investment for sustainable economic growth.
A population in good health means a strong workforce; long working lives; fewer healthcare costs. All this contributes to sustainable growth.
To create inclusive growth we need to bridge health inequalities to achieve health for all.
This is why the decisions we make now – on health action, on health budgets - will impact upon the health and welfare of our future generations.
Future generations, which, as we know, will live longer and longer; in a Europe with fewer and fewer young people.
15 years from now, the proportion of Europeans aged 65 or over will have increased by 20%.
And 50 years from now, 1 in every 3 Europeans will be 65 or over.
This is excellent news. But at the same time, it places even greater pressure on our health systems already struggling to provide good quality healthcare while remaining sustainable.
One way to improve healthcare and stem the rising healthcare costs in the long term is to use Healthcare technology in a smart and responsible manner.
I believe we need to encourage responsible innovation in Health - which pays proper regard to efficacy, safety and risk and benefits society.
e-Health applications for example, can help prevent diseases or diagnose them at early stage, increase patient safety and improve the efficiency of health systems.
For patients, e-Health means better care, more comfort and enhanced sustainability. eHealth can allow a patient to have his heart rate monitored from home instead of lying in a hospital bed; it can also avoid mistakes in emergency care if there is an electronic record with vital information such as blood type and allergies.
For health professionals, e-Health may translate into better access to the latest medical research. It can mean quicker and safer ways of passing information to colleagues. It also means spending less time dealing with red tape.
For all this to work, we need inter-operability and compatibility.
We need the means to make different eHealth applications "understand" and "talk" to one another.
Earlier this month, EU Health Ministers reached a political agreement on the Directive on patients' rights in cross-border care. I would like to thank the Spanish Presidency for the work they did to get to this agreement. I hope that this leads to formal co-operation on e-Health at European level.
eHealth is just one example of innovation in health.
Medical Devices is another. Medical devices are a European innovation success story; and play a key role in the diagnosis, prevention, monitoring and treatment of diseases.
Europe has over one third of the world market share in medical devices. More than half a million jobs across Europe depend on the medical devices sector.
This is an area which will require adequate investment and appropriate regulation to maximise its benefits.
Similarly, innovation in the field of health-care products such as medicines or medical devices is of major importance.
New and emerging technologies and therapies, such as personalised medicines, can bring considerable benefits.
They allow for good prevention, earlier diagnosis, better monitoring and treatment of diseases, better quality of life and greater empowerment to patients.
We need an innovative pharmaceutical industry that invests in research and development of new medicines which are urgently needed by patients and which respect the conditions of quality, safety and efficacy.
I am convinced that Health technology can save lives and greatly improve healthcare. But it is also expensive and needs to be managed wisely. This is why we need to strengthen co-operation on health technology assessment.
The Commission and EU Member States are working on a joint initiative to increase cooperation, share information and develop the same methods for Health technology assessment. Moving on, as I said, technology can help improve citizens' health by providing better healthcare.
However, what I would really like to see is a Europe where citizens are so healthy that they do not need that much healthcare in the first place.
More hospitals are being built to increase the numbers of hospital beds.
We must start refocusing our priorities to prevention rather than cure. My aim is to keep hospital beds empty; to help ensure that people do not get sick in the first place, when this can be avoided.
And in many cases, it can.
Many diseases which affect people – young and old alike - are linked to what they eat and drink, and to whether or not they exercise or smoke.
This is why the time has come to put a much stronger emphasis on promoting good health and preventing diseases. Europe needs to invest more – more time, more efforts, more money - in promoting good health.
This is easier said than done. An American physician once said: "It is a lot harder to keep people well than it is to just get them over a sickness." And he was absolutely right.
Promoting good health is not just about "convincing people" to take up healthy lifestyles or about awareness-raising campaigns.
It is about ensuring that people can actually make healthy choices.
And this is where the need for a wide range of policies to serve health concerns comes in.
For example, we may well advise people to exercise; but if there are no parks, no walking spaces, no bicycle lanes, people do not have the choice to exercise.
We can only succeed in encouraging people to exercise if there are safe and clean spaces for them to do so. For this we need healthy urban planning and transport policies.
Likewise, if we want our children to develop healthy eating habits, we need education policies that include nutrition in the school curricula; and we need schools that serve healthy meals.
Another example is tobacco. We may well strongly advise people not to smoke as a means to prevent diseases.
For this, we need much more than awareness raising. We need prominent warning labels informing consumers of the dangers of smoking; and a mix of dissuasive measures including taxation, or advertising.
Preventing tobacco related health problems also requires people to have a choice not to be exposed to tobacco smoke. For this we need national legislation imposing smoking bans in public places.
If we want our citizens to be healthy, they need to live in healthy conditions, including good housing, water and sanitation. They also need to travel in healthy conditions.
Take airport scanners for example. Before we allow body scanners to be used in our airports, we need to make sure that we only use scanners that do not put citizens' health at risk.
My message is, as we saw in the video earlier, health policy is also social policy; it is environment policy; it is transport policy; it is education policy; it is research policy; it is digital policy; and many other policies.
Building a Europe for Health requires close co-operation with many policies and many stakeholders.
This not only applies to the work we do within Europe, but also beyond Europe. I am pleased that some of you here today also attended our Global Health Conference earlier this month.
This event was a good opportunity to look at how we can use our development and aid policies to tackle global health problems – together with our global partners.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude.
Investing in health pays off.
We need to focus much more on prevention and promotion, in particular taking into account ageing.
We need to use technology for Health in a smart and responsible manner.
To do this, we need to bring many different policies and actors on board and work together.
We face common challenges that require common solutions.
Only by working together, can we turn these challenges into opportunities.