On 18 April, the European Parliament (EP) voted on a Resolution on the impact of the financial and economic crisis on human rights. The resolution highlighted some of the global impacts of the crisis on the right to health. EPHA applauds the EP’s recognition of the multiple impacts of the crisis on ordinary people and the need to further champion public health across Europe.
The Resolution states that "the rising price of medicines (by up to 30%) is having a negative impact on the right to health of the most vulnerable, notably children, the elderly and persons with disabilities." For older people "the impact of the economic crisis can be particularly acute ... the crisis can limit their access to affordable healthcare."
On the same day that the European Parliament adopted this resolution, EPHA Secretary General Monika Kosinska participated in the WHO Ministerial Conference Health systems in times of global economic crisis: an update of the situation in the WHO European Region. Health ministers are taking stock of the policy responses adopted by governments, as they assess the overall impact on health systems four years from the WHO meeting “Health in times of global economic crisis: implications for the WHO European Region.”
In the EU, health systems should be based on the overarching values of universality, access to good quality care, equity, and solidarity. Universality means that no-one is barred access to health care; solidarity on the need to ensure accessibility for all; and equity relates to equal access, according to need, regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, social status or ability to pay.
Since 2009 health stakeholders have been warning that cutting health and social protection budgets would lead to a dire situation. In a report, the European Parliament stresses that it is “aware of increasing social and health inequalities within and between states. Based on what we know already, we can predict the dire impact that this will have on the determinants of health - and for economic effectiveness, social cohesion and environmental sustainability.“
A few months ago the Parliament called for greater transparency in medicine pricing. Now this resolution in the Parliament comes at a time when, across Europe, user charges and co-payments are being implemented. User charges increase the financial burden on households and, even at minimal charges, reduces the use of healthcare, particularly for lower-income individuals and older people. A large portion of this out-of-pocket expenditure for healthcare can be on medicines (e.g. in Latvia it equals to 60% of out-of-pocket expenditure). Increased out-of-pocket payments impacts people with low resources and increases their vulnerability.
Less affordable and accessible health services will inevitably mean increased inequalities in the European Union; this will impact on its future social progress and development. Equity in utilisation means that health services and resources should be used according to need, not by people’s ability to pay .
Countries affected by the crisis have been facing shortages in medicine supplies. In Greece the situation is worsening, as medicines are exported to other European countries where prices are much higher and pharmaceutical companies are accused of halting supplies to the country. The situation has reached such a dramatic state that an American NGO “Essential Inventions” encouraged the Greek government to adopt a compulsory licence law that would allow Greece to import generics from other countries. To discuss possible solutions to the access to medicines crisis in the EU, EPHA is organising a workshop on 16 May that will gather patients, health professionals, civil society actors, and academics from Greece, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the UK, and international organisations to debate solutions to medicines’ shortages.
In order to provide access to affordable medicines to people living in Europe and in developing countries and to put an end to medicine shortages in Europe, an integrated approach is needed. Member states should make use of health technology assessment and boost innovation efforts in order to meet unmet medical needs and create new affordable medicines. Any strategy and response needs to put patients needs first and government policies should promote the adequate supply of medicines, closely monitor medicine stocks and the supply chain.
EPHA and its members will continue to work to raise awareness with EU Institutions and national governments to ensure patients have access to the medicines they need.
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