1 October, Brussels -Scientists, public health researchers and NGOs have reacted with grave concern in light of leaked copies of the European Commission’s proposed Health Research Programme 2014-2015 (part of Horizon2020) circulating in Brussels. They have raised questions regarding the preparation of this draft, given its failure to address the major personal, social, environmental and occupational risk factors of disease in favour of narrow research parameters focusing on biotechnology and personalised medicine.
“This programme turns its back to research designed to mitigate the public health impacts of the economic crisis and underestimates the significance of health systems. All in all, this proposal does very little to address the health problems that keep people living in Europe awake at night,” said Walter Ricciardi, President of the European Public Health Association (EUPHA).
According to a statement issued by a major coalition of scientists and researchers (1), the draft in circulation is in need of major reform if Europe’s intention to lead in health research is not to be undermined. The draft is significantly biased towards biotechnology and personalized medicine, while severely neglects research on the prevention of disease, health services and intervention programmes. As a result, this programme is seriously out-of-touch with what helps people live healthy, productive and long lives.
If this Health Research Programme is to boost research on the sustainability and equity of European health care systems, on which Europe already spends nearly 10% GDP, the present draft falls short of addressing most of the factors that jeopardize them.
As a letter issued today (2) by the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) states, this research programme fails to adequately address health inequalities, overlooking the fact that the current epidemic of non-communicable diseases in Europe is caused by factors (3) such as poverty, the environment, inequality, and lack of affordable public transport, as well as factors such as diet, exercise, tobacco and alcohol.
Prof Annette Peters, President of the the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) noted that “ISEE’s concern regarding the draft work programme 2014-2015 on Health, Horizon2020, is that the momentum and vitality of the European-wide collaboration in environmental health, that started in FP5 and that has led to important advances in environmental health research, needs to be preserved. If sufficient funding is not available in the future and if sufficient priority is not given to this area, successful European-wide research will not remain competitive internationally.”
It is unclear how the European Commission could deviate so far from an inclusive approach to health research that has been ratified by the European governments. Prof. Barbara Hoffmann, Vice-Chair of ISEE-Europe mentioned that “we have sent to Dr Draghia-Akli, Director Health, Research and Innovation (EC) specific comments developed by the ISEE that widen the scope of the text to include research in environmental health rather than mostly focusing on research on genetics/genomics in environmental health.”
"The European Union must connect with its citizens. Horizon 2020 offered a great opportunity to support research that would tackle the major challenges to their health but what we have seen so far suggests that it has missed this opportunity," pointed out Martin McKnee, President elect of the European Public Health Association (EUPHA).
Meaningful scientific and civil society input is required in order to ensure that this Health Research Programme is relevant and applicable to everyone living in Europe, the first and foremost stakeholders of the European Union project. Prof. Manolis Kogevinas, Chair of ISEE-Europe noted that “the response we received from the European Commission has been disappointing. We were simply told that ISEE (and presumably other scientific societies) should not have had access to the draft proposal in the first place. This poses a serious issue of openness to the scientific and civil society in the EU of the process for setting priorities in research.”
“The failure of the European Commission to specify the appropriate priorities for health research in this draft is a demonstration of the need to ensure the conversations regarding how European money is spent should not happen behind closed doors. Greater transparency would not only ensure that the huge gap between research and the health problems of the European population is narrowed, but would also go some way to improving citizens’ confidence in the European project,” said Monika Kosińska, Secretary General of EPHA.
(3) The recent Vienna declaration of the WHO Ministerial Conference on Nutrition and Non communicable Diseases (July 2013) argues that most premature deaths from non-communicable diseases could be prevented if appropriate policies were adopted in sectors other than health, rather than trying to tackle the problem through health policy alone.
Javier Delgado Rivera, EPHA Communications Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or +32(0) 2 230 3076.