Vaccines Europe was pleased to be invited to attend and play an active role in occasion of the first EU Summit on Chronic Diseases organised and hosted by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Health & Consumers last 3-4 April 2014.
The Summit brought together a set of high-level stakeholders representatives of governments, public health authorities, research organisations, insurers, industry, patients, and the NGO community to join voices in discussing the increasingly pressing burden posed by chronic diseases in the EU, which is set to rise with the projected demographic change and growing number of elderly.
The number of Europeans over the age of 65 is projected to increase by 75% over the next 50 years, with dramatic impact on healthcare spending and a cumulative loss of economic output to increase by 4% of annual global GDP by 2030 (World Economic Forum, 2014). Elderly people are more likely to experience chronic diseases, often more than one at a time, a fact that challenges their ability of staying an active and healthy component of society for as long as possible. According to the OECD (2013), about 75% of Europe’s healthcare bill is spent on chronic diseases, mounting to an estimated expense of EUR 700 billion on average a year.
High-level speakers participating in the summit pointed to the need of identifying more effective and suited ways of re-thinking how public health and healthcare systems design, implement and deliver their prevention strategies. As a matter of fact, many of the chronic conditions affecting today’s Europe are largely preventable or can be managed to prevent further complications or advancement of the disease.
Health Commissioner Tonio Borg called for the need to re-engineer healthcare systems and promote a mind-shift from re-active to active systems capable of taking appropriate, smart, and cost-effective action to absorb socio-economic pressures. This would enable developing innovative
and sustainable prevention and disease management models. Referring to the fact that 97% of EU healthcare spending goes on treatment, with only 3% directed to prevention programmes (OECD, 2013), in his opening plenary speech, Commissioner Borg asked the following:
“Does this proportion make sense, when many of the most prevalent chronic diseases are largely preventable? Is it appropriate to dedicate only 3% to prevention, when we know that by addressing tobacco, alcohol abuse, poor nutrition and sedentary living, as well as vaccination, we could actually prevent many people from getting ill?”
OECD Deputy Secretary-General Yves Leterme called for stronger leadership and investment in primary care, as well as a stronger primary care system.
Specifically with regards to vaccination, Vaccines Europe Executive Director Magdalena R. de Azero – who was invited to speak in Workshop 4 on Investing in Health – explained how this plays a crucial through direct prevention of chronic diseases or prevention of risks that could develop into further severe complications for patients affected by specific chronic conditions and gave several examples of this in her presentation.
For example, in the case of influenza, evidence suggests that the implementation of an effective vaccination programme could reduce by half the risk of stroke and major cardiovascular events in CVD-affected patients (Udell, 2012). Nevertheless, chronic disease patients remain very challenging to identify and target through immunisation programmes – constituting about 50% of the current influenza vaccination gap (Préaud et al, 2014).
This highlights the important link between vaccination and chronic and non-communicable diseases, which is often neglected or poorly communicated to those directly affected.
EU preventative action should thus endeavor to enable a holistic approach to prevention reconciling and better coordinating action to tackle infectious and chronic diseases.
The 2-day Summit concluded calling for the “need to establish a coalition across stakeholders towards more effective and smarter approaches to the prevention of chronic diseases, the preservation of the best possible health status, and the sustainability of modern health systems, to maximise the healthy life years enjoyed by EU citizens and to trigger economic and social development”.
Vaccines Europe welcomes the Conference Conclusions and invites further reflection on how to foster political leadership and turn policy objectives into action for innovative and sustainable prevention models to become a reality across EU Member States.
The full Conference Conclusions are available here.
All presentations can be found on the DG SANCO website.
Twitter conversations during the Summit can be explored using #EU4Health.