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Health inequalities in Europe refer to the different access, cost and quality that EU patients receive depending on the country they live. Today, inequalities in healthcare are found in all EU countries and between them. In Europe the severity of disease and age that people die is strongly influenced by factors such as employment, income, length of education and ethnicity according to the latest European Commission evidence.

In the case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the European Commission has found that differences in the quality of care play an important role to explain differences at European level. For example, in 2011 Ireland and Hungary had the highest hospital admission rates for COPD while Portugal, Italy, Switzerland and France had rates that were less than half the EU average. According to a recent survey conducted in 70 countries, asthma prevalence in some European countries is amongst the highest in the world, with the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom having prevalence rates of 15% or higher. In 2011, asthma-related admissions in the Slovak Republic and Latvia doubled the EU average, whereas Italy, Portugal, Germany, Sweden and Luxembourg reported rates were less than half the EU average.

Addressing health inequalities is fundamental to achieve the goals of Europe 2020 for inclusive growth. The EU is working directly through EU policy and indirectly through national authorities to reduce health inequalities. At EU level, the main document to tackle health inequalities is "Solidarity in Health: Reducing Health Inequalities in the EU", a strategy adopted in 2009. At national level, the EU encourages countries to adopt good practices in health inequalities and develop new policies through a group of experts. EU countries have set shared objectives that include reducing inequalities in health outcomes and access to healthcare (see the open method of coordination).

Health inequalities are a reality that concerns us and we at EFA work insistently to:

  • Reduce health inequalities in access to care and quality of treatment within and between Member States;
  • Ensure the equitable representation of European patients with allergy, asthma and COPD;
  • Tackle health determinants, with a special focus on eliminating socioeconomic inequalities affecting them.

Our advocacy activities on healthcare are voiced and supported by the European Patients’ Forum (EPF), an EU umbrella organisation of which we are full members.