EFA and EU Policy Update

In policy news this month, EFA is pleased to announce we have submitted a paper to EMA calling for increased involvement of children and young people in reviewing medicines that are targeted to them, we have collaborated in sending a letter to President Barroso calling for the speedy release of the new tobacco products legislation, a new EU health Commissioner has been appointed, Cyprus has organised a debate on respiratory diseases and healthy aging (see ‘EFA in Meetings’ section here) and more. 


EFA submission on involvement of children and young people in paediatric medicines review

EFA has made a submission to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) public consultation on its concept paper on the involvement of children and young people in the review of medicines for which they are the target group.

The paper seeks to develop a framework for when and to what extent children could be involved in the Paediatric Committee (PDCO) of the Agency, how best to seek their views and how best to apply them.

In its submission paper, EFA said it very much welcomes this EMA initiative, especially as asthma and allergies are the most common chronic diseases in children. EFA believes children are therefore the best candidates to explain their symptoms and expectations. EMA has proposed using its existing network of European patient organisations to find suitable children to participate in the reviews, with the hope that this will help overcome challenges such as language barriers. EFA stressed that children must be spoken to in a way and language that they are comfortable with, and believes the use of social media should be explored. Examples of targeted youth communication by EFA members, including the food allergy comic book for teenagers by Prévention des Allergies Belgium, were provided.

A Working Party within the PDCO will gather comments received during the public consultation (which closed on the 17th of November) and further discussion is due to take place in December. Next steps are hoped to be decided on in January 2013.


EFA and NGOs write to European Commission President to urge released of Tobacco legislation

EFA, along with other NGOs active in the field of health promotion and transparency, has written a letter to the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, to urge him to release the revised Tobacco Products’ Directive without delay, and to implement greater transparency and stronger ethical practices in the Commission.


As we reported in an article in our last eZine, the EU Health Commissioner John Dalli resigned last month following a scandal involving a Swedish tobacco producer. The Commission stated that the proposal for a new Tobacco Products’ Directive, which was due to be published in December, was likely to be postponed at least until a new Maltese Commissioner was appointed (Tonio Borg – see under for details of his appointment).

In the letter, EFA and the other NGOs underlined the need to release the new proposal without delay. They said that Europe urgently needs stronger legislation on tobacco to help protect citizens’ health and reduce youth smoking rates, and reminded that tobacco causes 650,000 deaths each year in Europe.

On the 13th of November, the Committee for Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament (ENVI) held a public hearing with the a new Maltese candidate to replace Dalli, Tonio Borg (see under). EFA is following these developments closely. Watch out for updates on our website and in our next eZine.


MEPs approve new Maltese Health Commissioner following hearing in European Parliament

Following the controversial resignation of John Dalli as EU Health Commissioner last month (see our October article), the hearing of Tonio Borg, the Maltese candidate nominated to replace him, took place on the 13th of November at the European Parliament in Brussels. The hearing lasted three hours, during which MEPs questioned Mr. Borg on the state of play of the tobacco legislation at the centre of the Dalli controversy, his suitability for the role of Health Commissioner and his views on issues such as abortion, divorce and homosexuality.

In good news for EFA and those who have campaigned for revision of the laws governing how tobacco is sold and marketed in Europe, Mr. Borg assured MEPs that the speedy release of the Commission’s proposed revision of the current Tobacco Products’ Directive will be his number one priority once in office. He said he hoped this would happen by January, and that European Commission President Barroso fully endorses this timeline.

However, Borg seemed to indicate that the Directive is unlikely to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes – something which EFA and other health organisations have campaigned for. Plain packaging requires the removal of all branding from cigarette packages, and permits only a plain brand name in standardised form along with health warnings and toxin details. Expressing his own personal views, he said that he believes plain packaging could be effective in discouraging smoking, but is unsure if Europe is ready for such a law.

He also explained he is in favour of a European cohesion policy to tackle persistent health inequalities across the EU, and cited examples such as differences in infant and maternal mortality rates and healthily life expectancy in EU Member States.

Despite concerns from some MEPs that Mr Borg’s allegedly conservative personal views might make him unsuitable for the role of EU Health Commissioner, the European Parliament voted on the 21st of November in favour of his appointment at the Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg.

Look out for news of the Tobacco Products’ Directive on our website and in future eZines.


State of play of health funding

The Health for Growth Programme, the third multi-annual programme of EU action in the field of health for the period 2014-2020, is currently under negotiation in the European Parliament and Council of the EU. The Programme is intended to fund health projects for the period and be a financial tool at the service of wider EU health policy, aiming to improve the performance of past programmes. Its main objectives are to encourage innovation in healthcare, increase health system sustainability, improve the health of EU citizens and protect citizens from cross-border health threats.

Earlier in the year (in June) the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee of the European Parliament voted on the draft report of Françoise Grossetête, MEP, on the Commission’s original proposal. EFA and its member associations had advocated for making health a fundamental right of the EU, reducing health inequalities, strengthening health literacy and patient empowerment, focusing on health promotion and disease prevention, enhancing the link with environmental factors underlying chronic diseases and supporting the involvement of patients and their representatives (see our letters to MEP Grossetête and all ENVI MEPs).

On the 27th of November a ‘trilogue’ – a meeting that takes place to try to reach agreement on a text – was held between Parliament, Commission and Council. It is hoped that this will happen early in 2013. If so, the Programme will enter into force in 2014 for 7 years. EFA will provide updates on the outcome.


Publication of ‘Health at a Glace’ report

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Directorate-General for Health and Consumers of the European Commission (DG SANCO) have jointly published a report entitled ‘Health at a Glance: Europe 2012’. The report presents the most recent key indicators of health and health systems across 35 countries: the 27 European Union Member States, five candidate countries and three European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries. The main messages to emerge from the report are that health spending in Europe fell for the first time in decades in 2010, and spending on disease prevention still accounts for only 3% of total health spending. Though no concrete deterioration in health outcomes due to the crisis were revealed, the report stresses that this does not mean they have been avoided, as it takes time for the toll of such strains to be seen in real terms.

For EFA, the main findings of interest were on asthma and COPD prevalence (p. 48). Prevalence of adult asthma ranged from 1.6% in Romania to 7% in France, and of COPD from 1.2% in Malta to 4.7% in Hungary. The report found that persons with a low level of education are more than twice as likely to report COPD than those with a high level. The report notes a marked decrease in smoking (the biggest risk factor in COPD) in almost all European countries over the last decade. Asthma accounted for 53 hospital admissions per 100,000 on average in 2009, with female admission rates around 70% higher than the male rate, though the reasons for this are unclear. The average COPD admission rate was 184 per 100,000 in 2009, nearly four times greater than for asthma. By contrast, males had a higher COPD admission rate than females in most countries. Approximately 50% of COPD admissions led to a re-admission or death within 90 days.


Publication of Eurostat Regional Yearbook 2012

Eurostat, the body that provides the EU with statistics enabling comparisons between countries and regions, has published its annual Yearbook providing a detailed picture of a broad range of statistical topics across the regions of the 27 EU Member States of the EU, as well as the regions of EFTA and candidate countries. Chapters provide maps, figures and tables accompanied by descriptions of main findings. Particularly interesting for EFA is the health chapter, especially the paragraph on respiratory diseases, and the Statistic Atlas, an interactive map viewer for statistical and topographical maps.


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