In September, EPHA was invited to deliver a statement to the 62nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe. Building on the statement last year that partnership with civil society - both within and outside of the health sector- is crucial to the success of the Health 2020 Strategy the statement this year focused on the financial crisis and the confirmation of EPHA’s commitment to promoting better health outcomes.
As a result of past investments in health, the European Region has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. One of the main messages of the WHO in the last decade is that the "health is wealth" premise is under threat. Austerity measures that reduce social support and healthcare compromises the European value of universal access to care. As financial markets set priorities for public spending, an alarming question of legitimacy is emerging in Europe.
EPHA believes that governments do have the power to change the gloomy status quo through taking steps to promote health and well-being while preventing disease. For instance, banning marketing to children would build on the gains from fiscal measures aimed at reducing consumption of junk food and boosting consumption of whole grain, fruit and vegetables. Minimum pricing of alcoholic beverages (based on units of alcohol) and bans on discounted alcoholic drinks would also produce substantial savings for health, crime and employment costs.
The financial crisis is also an opportunity to promote sustainability through progressive reforms that promote cost-effectiveness, by emphasising prevention, health promotion, early interventions, and tackling health inequalities. During times of financial crisis, health system reforms must be accessible, sustainable, adequate, socially inclusive and economically productive.
EPHA supports the achievement of the Health 2020 vision “to strengthen health systems, and revitalise public health infrastructures and institutions.” The European Region cannot afford to waste its human capital. The health workforce is a source of quality employment and proper investment in public health systems.
The economic crunch and the current austerity wave it triggered is forcing policy-makers to make hard choices. Through solidarity, courageous leadership and the full involvement of health actors in financial decision-making, the European Region can emerge from the financial crisis not only stronger, but healthier. It will require visionary leaders to prioritise people’s health, invest in public health infrastructures, and rebuild the public health care workforce, while ensuring sufficient allocation of funding and cutting costs where efficiencies can be found. This is not easy, but the success of the Health 2020 Strategy and most importantly, the well-being of hundreds of millions across Europe depend on it. As a civil society representative organisation, EPHA asks European leaders to show courage and bold leadership in these times when we need it the most.
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