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Health Strategy

1. Background

“Ultimately, the prosperity of the European Union largely depends on the health status of its citizens,” said EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou in 2007, as the European Commission outlined its Health Strategy for the coming years.

Health is crucial for the wellbeing of individuals and society. Protection against illness and disease, quality healthcare, safe and hygienic homes and workplaces, as well as a healthy environment are something many Europeans take for granted.

In a world where masses are able to travel the globe, threats to the health of EU citizens from communicable diseases cannot be quarantined within national borders. Diseases caused by smoking, poor nutrition or pollution are a matter of concern in all EU countries, as are the challenges ageing populations pose to healthcare systems. In an internal market, the safety of pharmaceuticals is a shared responsibility.

Health policy remains a national competence. There are only a limited number of EU legislative rules governing public health. However, health related issues are increasingly addressed at the European level as coordinated policies, in order to better answer the challenges common to all member states.

Today, the EU works in unison to stem cross-border health threats, to improve patient and medical staff mobility, and to reduce health inequalities. It is developing a comprehensive health information system to provide EU-wide access to reliable and up-to-date information on key health-related topics, and hence a basis for a common analysis of the factors affecting public health. The EU also wishes to enhance the capability for responding rapidly to health threats and is strengthening the epidemiological surveillance and control of infectious diseases for this purpose.

Health and consumer protection policies are particularly closely linked. The safety of products and services — including food safety and rapid food alerts — are key priorities for the EU.

The Amsterdam Treaty of 1998 made it a responsibility of the EU to complement the work done by member states, with efforts directed towards improving public health, preventing human illness and diseases and obviating sources of danger to human health.

To carry the responsibility of the Treaty, the European Commission in May 2000 presented its first proposal for a European strategy in the field of health. It aimed at improving health information for all levels of society, creating a mechanism for rapid response to major health threats, and addressing health determinants such as harmful factors linked to lifestyle. The Commission also called for concentrating resources where the Community can provide added value, without duplicating work better done by EU member states or international organizations. The Community action programme 2003-2008 in the field of public health, adopted in September 2002, was the cornerstone of the first health strategy of the EU. It financed the realization of more than 300 projects and other actions promoting better health.

In October 2007, the European Commission adopted a new White Paper on Health Strategy, ‘Together for Health: A Strategic Approach for the EU 2008-2013’. Building on previous work, this strategy aims to provide a broad cross-policy framework covering core issues in health as well as health in all policies and global health issues. The Second Programme of Community Action in the Field of Health 2008-2013 supports the strategy and is in force as of 1st of January, 2008.

A European public opinion survey, the Eurobarometer on health in the EU, published in September 2007, found 73 percent of the respondents to be in good or very good health. Some 7 percent reported poor health. However, within this figure the researchers found some evidence of health inequalities, as twice as many of the least educated citizens (14 percent) said they had bad health.

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