Working together for Health
On 29 June I met an impressive gathering of over 500 health stakeholders from all over Europe and beyond. I had invited them to come to Brussels under the motto "Together for Health" to get their views and expertise on how to ensure that all policies play their part in improving citizens' health. My objective is to improve Health for all in Europe. To do this, many players and many policies need to work closely together.
Building synergies between policies and players is particularly important now that Europe is fighting a financial crisis. I believe investment in health means investment for sustainable economic growth. A population in good health means a strong workforce, long working lives and fewer healthcare costs. 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. This is particularly important in the context of population ageing, which places even greater pressure on our health systems struggling to remain 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. e-Health applications for example, can help prevent diseases, increase patient safety and improve the efficiency of health systems. Medical devices also play a key role in the diagnosis, prevention, monitoring and treatment of diseases. New and emerging technologies and therapies, such as personalised medicines, can bring considerable benefits. I am convinced that Health technology can save lives and greatly improve healthcare. And this is the reason why we need to encourage responsible innovation in Health - which pays proper regard to efficacy, safety and risk, and benefits society.
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. Many diseases which affect people are linked to what they eat and drink, and to whether or not they exercise or smoke. Europe needs to invest more – more time, more efforts, more money - in promoting good health. 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. To be healthy, our citizens need to live in healthy conditions.
Therefore 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. That is why we need to work, truly, together for health.