EPHA Annual Conference
The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) celebrated its work in the past 20 years on 4-5 September during its annual conference held in cooperation with the Lithuanian EU Council Presidency in Brussels. The title of the conference ‘Brave New World: Inclusive Growth and Well-Being or Vested Interests and Lost Generations?’ pointed to the challenges that European decision-makers are currently facing to ensure that the health and wellbeing of ordinary people are sufficiently protected, which made for a recurrent topic of discussions during the two-day event.
The conference was opened by the Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, who emphasised that social and health inequalities are dangerously high across Europe. He argued that this issue could only be addressed if European leaders focus on the root causes of such disparities through political commitment, good governance and inclusive growth. Due to shrinking public health budgets, Europe’s health care systems are being confronted with real pressures to become more cost-effective and sustainable, without compromising access to quality healthcare. As Paola Testori Coggi, European Commission’s Director-General for Health and Consumers pointed out, this can be achieved through “genuine structural reforms for patient-centred health systems” using a broad range of tools. This includes health technology assessments, e-health, and innovation, as well as investing in health promotion and prevention.
A similar message was emphasised by Zsuzsanna Jakab, Regional Director for World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe recognising the economic weight of the health sector for wealth, job creation, investment and growth: “Health promotion and disease prevention not only produces results in the long run - they also do so in the short-term. There is a solid body of evidence about the ample economic advantages of preventive policies and that social welfare spending is associated with mortality reduction more than with GDP increase”.
Yves Leterme, Deputy Secretary General of the OECD, pointed out that cutting public health care has proved to be counterproductive: “Virtually every country that has cut health spending has also increased co-payments. But it is a false saving: there is very little evidence that increased co-payments reduce public spending on health, particularly over the longer term. On the other hand, there is considerable evidence that co-payments discourage people from seeking the help they need and increase health inequalities.”
The European Social Netowork (ESN) highlighted similar arguments in its work looking at the economic and social costs of poor mental health. Together with its members from local and regional governments across Europe, ESN supports the shift towards preventative services by presenting evidence on how mental health promotion and prevention is more cost-effective than tackling mental ill-health after it has occurred.