Access to healthcare for all is one of the major achievements of post-Second World War Europe bringing to reality the idea that all human beings, rich or poor, should benefit from quality medical care without worry that their illness would bankrupt their family.
As we celebrate World Health Day, we should feel a great deal of satisfaction for the progress made on our continent in protecting EU citizens’ health and in raising the overall life expectancy. As a cardiac surgeon, and having treated many patients, I have seen how important Universal Healthcare is, especially for the most vulnerable. I have also met many inspiring healthcare professionals, scientists, researchers and social workers who make Universal Healthcare a reality on everyday basis – it strikes pride in my heart to be part of this wonderful union.
But when it comes to health, an important lesson learned is that borders don’t matter in case of health crisis. That is why the EU has now set up a European Medical Corps to dispatch medical experts to tackle health emergencies such as epidemics or infectious diseasesboth inside and outside Europe. The EU is also a leading global donor for health initiatives to boost research and provide support to fight major diseases across the world. Through its international development funding for example, the EU has allocated over €475 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The EU also provides around €200 million in humanitarian assistance every year to support health programmes that seek to limit mortality, disability and disease associated with humanitarian crises.
That being said, there are still significant differences in life expectancy and exposure to health risks in the world as well as across the EU. For example, premature mortality rates from chronic diseases are at least twice as high as the EU average in Bulgaria, Hungary and Latvia. Such inequalities are often related to social inequality and caused, in part, by disparities in access to high-quality care due to financial costs and the uneven geographical distribution of doctors within and across EU countries. This is why building a fair and socially equal Europe is a key priority for the European Commission. The European Pillar of Social Rights recently adopted aims to ensure access to social protection for all workers and self-employed individuals in the EU. This is an important step towards delivering on our commitment to make healthcare accessible to all citizens – not only medical treatment, but also preventive care.
Making sure that every single person in the EU has access to health care should be the priority for all national authorities. In this context the continued growth of European Reference Networks will also increase the cooperation across our health systems. These virtual networks facilitate access to specialised healthcare for patients suffering from rare and low prevalence complex diseases.
Although the success of making healthcare available to all ultimately rests with the Member States who are responsible for defining and organising their health policy, services and budget, the Commission will continue to offer guidance in order to decrease the health gaps among EU countries. Together we will be able to make sure that we are doing our utmost so that universal health care is delivered to all, here in the EU and around the world.