Check against delivery.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to attend this conference highlighting the achievements of our European Joint Action on chronic diseases and healthy ageing – the "CHRODIS Joint Action".

It is a pleasure to be in the company of so many like-minded people – united in our determination to promote good health and to prevent and address chronic diseases.

I am particularly happy to be here with Zsuzsanna Jakab and Ian Forde – the WHO and the OECD are our key partners.

To foster healthy ageing we need to start at the very beginning: birth, or even before! It is not just a question of addressing chronic diseases.

It is a question, first and foremost, of promoting good health across the life cycle:

  • pro-actively monitoring children's health in schools, promoting healthy living, protecting children against risk factors, to foster healthy children and teenagers;
  • and then continue pro-actively promoting good health amongst adults – people aged 18-65 – to foster healthy citizens and a healthy workforce.

If we do not foster a society of healthy children and healthy adults, how can we foster healthy ageing?

We cannot think about healthy ageing only when the first symptoms of chronic diseases start to emerge! That would be too little, too late.

I call on Member States and stakeholders to focus more on health promotion – pro-active health promotion in all ages – to keep people in good health, and for longer.  

In the long term, such pro-active promotion will delay or prevent the onset of many chronic diseases – thus contributing to a healthier ageing society.

And how do we keep people in good health?

By addressing the main risk factors: nutrition, exercise, alcohol, tobacco, living and working conditions, stress, environmental factors and social determinants.

This calls for pro-active and wide ranging national or regional policies with a greater focus on prevention, prophylaxis and patient monitoring.

Addressing behavioural, social and environmental determinants, all together, is key.

A recent report – called Health at a Glance – shows that investment in promotion pays off. Many lives could be saved by focusing more on the risk factors.

Second, health promotion measures must reach out to everybody – the poorest, the less educated.

Low socio-economic status has a comparable health effect to that of the other major risk factors I have just mentioned.

Poorer people are in poorer health. People with lower income do not have the means or the knowledge to lead a healthy life, to eat well, to exercise, or to go to the doctor for check-ups.

Poorer people are more likely to eat junk food, not to exercise, and to live or work in unhealthy conditions. Plus the proportion of people with low income who cannot afford healthcare has also been increasing. 

Poorer people are therefore more likely to develop a number of chronic diseases, and to stop working because of such diseases.

As such, bad health due to a chronic disease can, in turn, lower people's socio economic status. It is a vicious circle.

This is why I encourage greater efforts to target people with lower levels of education or lower income.

The Health at a Glance report reminded us not only of the burden of chronic diseases, but also about health inequalities. 

  • Inequalities in terms of Member States having very different levels of resources attributed to health.
  • Inequalities in terms of people with lower income being in poorer health and being 10 times more likely to have problems in accessing healthcare for financial reasons, than more affluent Europeans.

When you look at this slide, you see that three out of every four healthy Europeans aged 50 to 59 work; but only half of those who suffer from chronic diseases work.

The report also shows that, in the European Union, more than half a million people of working age die prematurely from chronic diseases every year; many related to smoking, or alcohol abuse, or poor living or working conditions; representing a cost of 115 billion euro in lost productivity.

Such figures call, once more, for a greater focus on promotion across the life cycle reaching out to low socio-economic groups; and for joint work and synergies between the health and employment sectors.

They call for improving working conditions so as to reduce work related diseases.

In addition, it is important to follow-up and monitor people's health in the long-term. This will help reach out to those most at risk of developing chronic diseases with proactive targeted instruments.

Finally, better integrated person-centred care and greater use of primary care is key to help all patients – including the poorest – live more independently, with a better quality of life. Active prevention policies at primary care level are essential in this regard.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let us now take a look at what the CHRODIS Joint action has achieved.

First, it has had a very strong focus on health promotion.

You have usefully mapped the health promotion landscape in the Member States and collected best practices.

And you have identified key factors fostering the transfer and scale-up of such practices. This is a crucial point.

Exchanging best practices is not enough. The time has come to effectively implement such best practices to make a real difference on the ground.

Second, you have also developed a model for integrated care for patients suffering from several chronic diseases.

Demographic ageing marches on – and many older persons suffer from more than one chronic disease, which need to be cared for in a holistic manner.

I am pleased to see that the Netherlands is already piloting this model and I look forward to seeing the results of the other pilots planned, including in Lithuania.

Third, CHRODIS examined how countries and their health systems are tackling chronic diseases, taking diabetes as a case study.

You put together lessons for prevention and management of chronic diseases by examining national diabetes plans.

You also provided guidance to those who do not have a national plan, or who seek support in implementation. I would encourage you now to use such guidance.

Last but not least, you developed the CHRODIS platform. The Commission will be developing a Resource Centre on health promotion and chronic diseases prevention and control which will take forward this important work.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

CHRODIS has made an important contribution through a range of concrete actions to address the challenges posed by chronic diseases.

On the Commission's part, we have recently established a Steering Group on Prevention and Promotion for Member States and EEA countries.

This group will advise the Commission and provide a forum for consultation among Member States on all issues concerning health promotion and prevention and management of chronic diseases.

The group will also look at best practices and will guide work on the transfer and scaling-up of such practices.

And of course Member States will also continue the work they started in the CHRODIS Joint Action by putting into practice the best practice and guidance developed.    

I encourage you to focus on implementation, paying close attention to multi-professional and multi-sectorial collaboration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Chronic diseases are complex and influenced by multiple factors.

I know that everyone here today is committed to advancing health promotion and prevention of chronic diseases; and to ensuring equal access to treatment and integrated care.

I fully share these goals. To reach them, we need to work together, across borders, across sectors, across institutions.

You can count on my full support and commitment.

Thank you.