European priorities for global health action

European priorities for global health action must engage all actors, including donor and recipient countries beyond the EU. These include all the agencies noted in this glossary and academic, business and civil society networks. It is important to bear in mind that global health is not solely concerned with health threats in or arising from resource-poor countries; these may also arise in rich countries (as in the case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and global warming), middle income countries (as in the case of avian and swine flu) or poor countries (as exemplified by HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis).

 

Priority-setting for global health action is driven by many factors and, until recently, has lacked a coherent approach between European countries, between European organizations and between different parts of the EU. In general, policy responses have tended to be issue based and responsive; they have been varied, reflected changes in the global burden of disease and in the wider impact of health on global political stability and economic development. They have also vacillated due to different perceptions of the impact of global health issues on Europe, the national interests of EU member states, the relationship with other partners such as the US, and the lobbying or advocacy of non-state actors.

The recent European Health Strategy has laid the groundwork for a more consistent policy, which will be defined by long-term investments in health infrastructures, action on health determinants and intergenerational health sustainability. The strategy recognizes that huge inequities in access to basic healthcare and exposure to the determinants of ill health are a significant destabilizing factor in many countries, and that this results in an increased global spread of both communicable and lifestyle-related disease, which causes human suffering for both EU and non-EU citizens. In other words, addressing the health challenges facing European citizenry is inextricably linked to tackling health challenges beyond Europe's borders. This requires a shift away from ad hoc policy solutions to longer-term commitments and sustained interest from leadership.

In responding to these challenges, Europe can provide a unique contribution to: strengthening health systems to enable them to identify and respond to global health risks as well as providing better health and care, developing and sharing skills and knowledge to improve services, and helping to train, develop and retain the health workforce they need.

There are, of course, many other ways in which Europe can contribute to global health, including:

  • strengthening health governance at global and national level to ensure better use of resources and to reduce corruption
  • addressing trade constraints to development and health as well as illegal trade harmful to health
  • ensuring access to essential medicines
  • supporting research, development and delivery of health solutions and drugs that meet the needs of resource-poor countries
  • developing exchanges and twinning between health communities
  • addressing the health needs of women

A process to engage the many different actors and networks in this field in developing a European Strategy for Global Health could help establish a more coherent basis for action in addressing such complex issues.


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