On 12 December 2016, the European Policy Center co-organised with CHES (Coalition for Health, Ethics and Society) a briefing on the Health Priorities of the Maltese Presidency. Ms.Claire Dheret, Senior Policy analyst at EPC, was the Chairman of the discussion. The speakers included Ms. Paula Franklin, Policy officer at EPC and Mr. Stephen Mifsud, health attaché of the Maltese Permanent Representation to the EU.
Mr. Mifsud emphasized that the work of the Maltese Presidency will be a continuation of the work of previous presidencies. The major issues will be categorized under the following clusters:
- Non-communicable diseases
- Access to innovative medicines:
- Cooperation between health systems
He then analyzed the clusters mentioning the main health policies:
- Childhood obesity: It poses a high burden for Member States. It is a priority area for actions. He emphasized the necessity to promote education on healthy lifestyles. The Maltese Presidency will follow a strategic approach on the obesity action plan 2014-2020 by sharing best practices on plans that have succeeded in the past. A supporting tool will be food procurement which is open to consultation. The Maltese Presidency will focus its strategy primarily on the prevention. The Maltese Presidency will organize a technical workshop in Malta 23-24 February.
- Cooperation between Health systems: Mr. Mifsud mentioned that the cooperation between health systems is included in the Directive on patients’ rights and cross border healthcare (ERNs, rare diseases, HTA, e-health). He underlined that health systems efficiency and sustainability may be addressed by increasing health system cooperation. Development in medicine and health care necessitate the generation of evidence on new models of health system. He informed the participants that a political discussion will be organized together with WHO health observatory. The Maltese Presidency will also host a technical workshop on 1-2 March in Malta with 4 parallel sessions: collaborative procurement strategies, structured cooperation, rare diseases and ERNs (European reference networks) as a mechanism promoting structured cooperation.
- HIV Prevention: Mr. Mifsud commented that the burden of HIV infection remains unacceptably high. The Maltese Presidency will focus its work on ending HIV by 2030, following the UN sustainable development goals. There will be a meeting in Malta in March on sharing achievements in good practices.
- Data for Health: Mr. Mifsud mentioned that the Maltese Presidency aims to provide the opportunity to patients to access their own data. Sharing health data across country borders. This data management analysis will improve effectiveness. Regarding funding and governance of reference networks. Currently the network is composed of experts. The idea is to see how the ERN (European reference networks) reaches all the networks. The objective is to expand and build on the ERNs. The Maltese Presidency plans to explore e-health applications, genetic testing and high-cost medical devices. There will be no further policy on vaccines.
The second session included the presentation of Childhood Obesity by Ms. Paula Franklin. She commented that Childhood obesity is a huge problem as it is demonstrated in the ‘health at a glance’ report in collaboration with OECD. The data were retrieved from GPs.
Ms. Franklin commented on the current challenges:
- Increasing production of processed food. They are available easily and they are the cheaper option. It is also a social indicator of inequalities since processed food is accessible to the lower social classes. There are plenty of initiatives.
- The European Commission has produced a White Paper on A Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues. The aim is to decrease saturated fats and added sugar. There is also a WHO action plan on prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. Ms. Franklin mentioned that it is undeniable that obesity has a negative impact on the individual’s life but also on healthcare systems.
- She commented that another issue is the food reformulation: there is a need for decreasing in ingredients such as salt, fats, sugar. The alternative is to add minerals, vitamins etc. There are different DGs working on these issues.eg. audiovisual directive is part of DG CONNECT. There is DG EDUCATION, DG SANTE, DG AGRI, DG RESEARCH.
- Commenting on the ‘Health at a Glance report’, Ms. Franklin added that childhood obesity has decreased only in two Member States (Denmark and the UK). She concluded that these countries should provide input and exchange best practices with the rest of the Member States in order to adapt policies preventing and combating childhood obesity.