by Davide Lecchini, Health/Pharma/Food safety attachè to the Italian Permanent Representation to the EU
This week's “Health in the Mediterranean” Ministerial Conference, organised by the Italian Presidency, has put the spotlight on issues impacting public health where cooperation between the EU and other countries around the Mediterranean is important.
In the last few months, the world has been vividly reminded by the Ebola epidemic and by the resurgence of polio and of MERS Coronavirus that health problems do not stop at borders.
In our fight against serious cross-border threats such as these, the WHO International Health Regulations (IHR) provide a legally binding framework for the coordination and management of events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern.
The EU Decision also disposes of a legal instrument to coordinate action across the EU: the Commission Decision on serious cross-border health threats, which entered into force in December 2013. It also allows for sharing information via the early warning and response system, and for working together on risk assessment, risk management and communication.
Collaborating with Mediterranean countries is important, through our work on antimicrobial resistance, for example, and by extending our surveillance and laboratory experience, while reviewing and strengthening shared vaccination strategies.
Countries in Europe and the Mediterranean face several common health challenges, including, to different extents, the double burden of diet- and physical inactivity-related chronic diseases and of nutritional deficiency disorders.
We are fortunate that so many of the traditional ingredients, cooking methods and diets from our countries were healthy to start with. Many are characterised by high consumption of fruits and vegetables, by consumption of fish, and by giving preference to low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean meat and poultry, and to vegetable oils as replacement of solid fats.
If we take these good examples into account and put our efforts into improving access to healthy diets, we can provide children with a healthier start in life. Adequate nutrition will ensure the health, growth and potential of the young in Europe and the Mediterranean.
Migration and health is another common challenge where EU and non-EU countries in the Mediterranean are faced with large unexpected flows of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers many of whom have particular health needs. This constitutes a third and serious burden that we cannot underestimate and that should be addressed jointly, by mobilizing needed resources within a shared framework. Deteriorating health and unnecessary deaths and suffering also due to the current turmoil in several areas in the region are indeed our main common enemies and we need to devise shared strategies to combat them and overcome the risk they impose on our societies.
This conference marks an important step forward towards greater cooperation, improved exchange of information and good practice in addressing these challenges.