Pilot projects on Health Inequalities

The European Parliament funds a number of pilot projects designed to test the feasibility and usefulness of action, develop evidence-based strategies to address a problem, identify good practices, and provide policy guidance in the area of health inequalities.

One such pilot is VulnerABLE: Improving the health of those in isolated and vulnerable situations

It targets specific vulnerable and isolated populations such as children and families from disadvantaged backgrounds; those living in rural/isolated areas; those with physical, mental and learning disabilities or poor mental health; the long-term unemployed; the inactive; the ‘in-work poor’; older people; victims of domestic violence and intimate partner violence; people with unstable housing situations (the homeless); and prisoners.

Due to their circumstances, these groups may be more at risk of poor health and/or face barriers in accessing healthcare services. The project will assess their particular health needs and challenges, as well as identify best practices to support them and ultimately improve their health.

Initial research has found that unmet health needs are a significant factor for those living in vulnerable and isolated situations. For example:

  • Data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) show that in older people socioeconomic factors such as a lower level of education and lower income increase the likelihood of older people experiencing limitations to their mobility, and the prevalence of eyesight, hearing and chewing problems
  • Those living in rural areas are less likely than urban residents to seek the healthcare they need because of cost, distance, and/or a lack of health facilities and professionals
  • Most prisoners have pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as substance abuse and mental health needs, which overcrowding and poor hygiene in prison may make worse
  • Those with lower levels of education are more likely to have a lower life expectancy
  • Long-term unemployment and inactivity is associated with a range of poor health outcomes

Over its two-year lifetime, the ‘VulnerABLE’ project will create training materials and capacity-building workshops for national and regional authorities who deliver healthcare services and have a vital role to play in tackling health inequalities

For more information about Pilot projects to tackle Health Inequalities on the ec.europa.eu website

The ethics of PH surveillance

Public health officials regularly collect and analyse data to map disease, spot patterns, identify causes and respond to outbreaks. Surveillance, when conducted ethically, is the foundation for programs to promote human well-being at the population level and can contribute to reducing inequalities.

However, it is not without risks for participants and sometimes poses ethical dilemmas. It can lead to harm if people’s privacy is violated, or they are stigmatized on the basis of the information they provide about themselves.

The WHO have produced Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Public Health Surveillance – the first international framework of its kind. It outlines 17 ethical guidelines that can assist everyone involved in public health surveillance, including officials in government agencies, health workers, NGOs and the private sector.

To read the Guidelines on Ethical Issues in Public Health Surveillance

National mental health strategy in Sweden

The Swedish government has introduced a new national mental health strategy for 2016-2020. It is based on five focus areas identified as the most important to strengthen mental health and prevent mental illness:

  1. Prevention and promotion efforts
  2.  Accessible early interventions
  3. Focus on vulnerable groups
  4. Participation and rights
  5. Organization and leadership

Each focus area includes people of all ages – children, young people, adults, and the elderly. Just as the focus areas were developed in collaboration between many different stakeholders, the government emphasises that all development work in the field must be conducted simultaneously and collaboratively. The Public Health Agency of Sweden plays a leading role in this effort.

For more information about Sweden’s National Mental Health Strategy on the eurohealthnet-magazine.eu website

Air pollution deaths in Europe

Each year, at least 1.4 million Europeans die prematurely due to polluted environments; this corresponds to at least 15% of Europe’s total deaths. Around half of these deaths are due to outdoor and indoor air pollution. Altogether, European citizens lose annually 50 million years of healthy life from environmental risks.

Environmental risk factors are responsible for around 26% of ischemic heart disease, 25% of strokes and 17% of cancers in Europe. Air pollution is the leading environmental killer, responsible for 620,000 deaths every year from outdoor (transport, industry, energy production) and indoor (solid fuel combustion for heating and cooking, poor ventilation, second-hand tobacco smoke) exposure.

For more information about the risks to public health of air pollution on the euro.who.int website

Where to swim in Europe

More than 85% of bathing water sites monitored across Europe in 2016 met the most stringent ‘excellent’ quality standards — meaning they were mostly free from pollutants harmful to human health and the environment, according to the latest annual bathing water quality report.

Over 96% of bathing water sites met the minimum quality requirements set out under European Union rules.

The report covers bathing water locations across the EU, Albania and Switzerland. European bathing waters are much cleaner than forty years ago when large quantities of untreated or partially treated municipal and industrial waste water were discharged into water. The assessment compiled analyses of water sampled at more than 21,000 coastal and inland bathing sites and gives a good indication where the best sites with the highest water quality are likely to be found this summer.

For more information including country reports on clean bathing water sites in Europe on the europa.eu website

Healthier, fairer, safer: the global health journey 2007–2017

This independent report, commissioned by WHO and written by Sir Liam Donaldson, reflects on the trends, achievements and challenges in global health over the past decade. It discusses the role of WHO in dealing with such issues as the rise of noncommunicable diseases, leaps in life expectancy, and emerging threats like climate change and antimicrobial resistance.

The sections include:

  • Saving mothers and children
  • Microbes: old and new
  • The ascendancy of noncommunicable diseases
  • Healthy ageing

To download the full report ‘Healthier, fairer, safer: the global health journey 2007–2017′ from the who.int website

Over 1.2 million adolescents die every year, nearly all preventable

Across the world, more than 3,000 adolescents die every day from largely preventable causes according to a report from the World Health Organisation.

Road traffic injuries, lower respiratory infections, and suicide are the biggest causes of death among adolescents and most of these could be prevented with good health services, education and social support. However, in many cases, adolescents who suffer from mental health disorders, substance use, or poor nutrition cannot obtain critical prevention and care services – either because the services do not exist, or because they do not know about them.

In addition, many behaviours that impact health later in life, such as physical inactivity, poor diet, and risky sexual health behaviours, begin in adolescence.

To read more about preventable adolescent deaths on the who.int website

Noncommunicable diseases – 45 successful years in Finland

In 1972, Finland had the highest rate of coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality in the world, and the region of North Karelia in eastern Finland had the highest rate in the country. To address this issue, the region initiated what is known as the North Karelia Project, a far-reaching, community-based intervention that aims to reduce CHD mortality by encouraging healthier habits and cutting down on risk factors such as high cholesterol intake and smoking.

The project is still active today and has produced remarkable results. During the 40-year period from 1972 to 2012, CHD mortality in North Karelia decreased by 82% among working-age men and 84% among women.

To read more about Finland’s method of reducing noncommunicable diseases from the euro.who.int website

25 Years of Protecting our Health

Since 1992 when the Maastricht Treaty specifically stated that ‘The community shall contribute towards ensuring a high level of human health protection’ the EU has been protecting our health.

It has helped national governments to make healthcare more accessible and efficient, provided scientific advice and data, financed local and cross-border health projects and promoted investments in innovation, research and training.

Current challenges include:

  • Guaranteeing accessible, efficient and resilient healthcare
  • Investing more in innovation, research and eHealth
  • Tackling antimicrobial resistance
  • Promoting innovative health products and technologies
  • Preparing for new global health threats

To download the infographic on 25 years of protecting our health from the ec.europa.eu website

Medicine packaging

Since 2001, EU rules have required the medicines we buy in the EU to contain a package leaflet which should provide us – the user, with clear information on the medicines we are taking – including the name of the product and the manufacturer, therapeutic indications, dosage, shelf life and adverse reactions.

The Commission has recently put forward recommendations on how they could be improved to better meet the needs of patients and healthcare professionals.

To read the recommendations on improved medicine packaging on the ec.europa.eu website