David Byrne, Europe’s Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Protection, last week addressed this year’s meeting of the
European Health Forum Gastein
, the theme of which was 'Health and wealth:
economic and social dimensions of health’, on the links between health and
economic prosperity, and the need to give health a central place in the European
Union (EU) economic and social agenda (1).
Economic costs of this year’s SARS epidemic had shown how valuable effective
public health measures can be, and with healthcare now accounting for between
5 and 10% of the GDP in the expanded European Union of 25 countries, improving
health is an economic priority for Europe. Enlargement brings the challenge
of a health divide arising between richer and poorer member states, which
the Commissioner said would be intolerable.
The Commissioner emphasised the importance of developing a EU knowledge
base for health, and said that the information strand of the new public
health programme (http://europa.eu.int/comm/health/ph_information/information_en.htm)
will provide a first step towards systematically gathering data that can
help to inform difficult policy choices. A more complete picture of EU health,
based on a handful of indicators, should measure communicable disease control
among other things.
Georgios Gouvras from the European Commission’s Directorate General for
Health and Consumer Protection also spoke at the Forum on Europe’s fight
against SARS and other communicable diseases. In summarising, Commissioner
Byrne said that SARS had been a wake up call to remind Europe that communicable
diseases do not stop at national borders, and commented that the proposed
European Centre for Disease Control would contribute to better preparedness
for epidemics and bioterrorist attacks by bringing together scientific knowledge
and providing a system for consultation and decision making (2).