Mission accomplished by the Luxembourg Presidency in the area of public health

Met dank overgenomen van Luxemburgs voorzitterschap Europese Unie 2e helft 2015 (EU2015LU) i, gepubliceerd op woensdag 23 december 2015.

The Minister of Health, Lydia Mutsch, provided a positive general assessment of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU and of the work carried out over the past six months in the area of public health.

Real progress was made on several major issues relating to the health of our citizens, such as in areas of the reduction of alcohol-related harm due to excessive consumption of alcohol; access to personalised medical care; dementia; the fight against drugs; quality of medical devices; protection against ionising radiation; as well as food safety. In all these areas, the Presidency continuously sought to tackle these problems in line with its motto, meaning placing the full focus of the measures on the patient and on innovation. The majority of the efforts were endorsed by the Council and the Ministers for Health of the Member States on 7 December 2015.

EU strategy on the reduction of alcohol-related harm

Given that the Union's previous strategy relating to alcohol expired in 2012 and has not been renewed since then, the Luxembourg Presidency has echoed the repeated calls of the Ministers for Health and the European Parliament by formally inviting the European Commission to adopt a new strategy prior to the end of 2016.

As Lydia Mutsch explained: "Excessive consumption of alcohol is an important risk factor for health, and for society as a whole. We need an ambitious strategy that addresses all the aspects relating to this scourge."

The strategy will aim to reduce alcohol-related harm by taking into account the health, social and economic consequences resulting from alcohol abuse and by focusing on cross-border initiatives, such as marketing, advertising and Internet sales. Further actions include protection of young people and the labelling of nutritional values on alcoholic drinks.

Personalised medicine for patients

For the first time ever, a Presidency has succeeded in making progress in discussions on possible solutions to ensure better integration of personalised medicine in our health systems, and to provide the basis for strategic thinking as regards personalised medicine at the European level.

"The challenge we need to meet is putting in place a framework which makes it possible to offer the right treatment to the right patient at the right time," explained Lydia Mutsch. Nevertheless, the integration of personalised medicine into daily medical care will prove to be difficult in view of the many obstacles hindering such targeted treatments, which have huge potential in treating cancer and rare diseases.

The Member States and the Commission are therefore invited to lend their support to the access to personalised medicine campaign that focuses on the patient, through the exchange of good practices, the implementation of information and awareness strategies so as to increase knowledge on the potential of existing treatments, as well as the promotion of appropriate training for health professionals.

Supporting people living with dementia: improving care policies and practices

47.5 million people suffer from this illness worldwide, including 6.4 million in Europe. With the demographic ageing of the population, an inevitable increase in the number of cases is expected in the coming years, which will reach 9 million people in the EU by 2030.

"It is a real socio-economic challenge, and one which is a trying ordeal not only for patients and their families, but also of the viability of our health systems", believes Lydia Mutsch, who went on to say that: "This is the reason why we have dealt with dementia as a societal phenomenon requiring multi-sector responses".

The conclusions adopted urge the Member States to tackle dementia as a priority by focusing in particular on the part played by the prevention of risk factors, early diagnosis and adequate post-diagnostic care.Destigmatization, exchange of good practices and enhanced investment in research are some of the areas of work earmarked by the conclusions, as are the role and training of formal and informal caregivers, and the active role of patients.

Lessons learned for public health from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa - Health security in the European Union

The Ebola health crisis in West Africa was the largest epidemic of this disease ever recorded, with more than 28,000 reported and confirmed cases. It cost the lives of more than 11,000 people, including 500 health professionals.

The Council conclusions adopted under the Luxembourg Presidency underline the necessity for the Member States to greatly improve their readiness and response plans so as to maintain the knowledge acquired during the management of the Ebola crisis, and to boost health security within the EU in the event of any future outbreaks of epidemics of similar proportions.

Lydia Mutsch explained that: "In the future, it will be important to exchange our good practices in the field of prevention and treatment of the Ebola virus disease, define the EU's medical evacuation capacities and come to an agreement on how to make mobile teams available on-site and on their operating methods."

Specific focus on the health dimension of migration and a call for solidarity

During the informal meeting at the end of September, the Ministers for Health were unanimous about the necessity to better address the public health dimension in all the current discussions concerning the refugee crisis.

According to Lydia Mutsch, "the impact of migratory flows on the Member States' health systems is undeniable. The refugee crisis has become a reality for us all, and from now on it will involve all of Europe. It is important to put coherent and coordinated political strategies in place by appropriately taking into account the health dimension".

The Ministers for Health emphasised the importance of equal access for refugees and migrants to the health systems, and also the need to boost the capacity of the health care infrastructures in the host countries so as to optimally manage the flow of migrants.

Medical devices: patient safety and a competitive European market

In the context of the acquis review concerning medical devices carried out in the wake of the PIP mammary implant scandal, the Luxembourg Presidency succeeded in identifying a general approach at the Council and finding common ground with the European Parliament on a significantly large number of particularly complex subjects, such as the introduction of an implanted card and the traceability of high-risk products. The path has thus been prepared for the completion of this dossier under the Dutch Presidency.

An ambitious programme in the area of food safety

On 16 November 2015, the Council adopted the Novel Food Regulation, which aims to facilitate the placing on the market of foods imported from third countries and which are little known in Europe, such as insects and various exotic fruits. The Regulation, which will enter into force in January, is based on a harmonised procedure, and allows for an improved evaluation so as not to endanger the safety of consumers.

At the invitation of the Luxembourg Presidency, the Commission presented a report on the presence of trans-fatty acids in foodstuffs at the Council held at the beginning of December; the report had been pending since December 2014. The report maintains the setting of limit values as the most efficient measurement to reconcile public health demands, consumer protection and Internal Market rules concerning this ingredient, of which the harmful effects are largely unknown to the public.

An agreement between Member States was reached on the regulation concerning control of the food chain, from which a more efficient system applicable to all the food chain sectors and better prevention of food crises ensues.

Radio-protection and fight against drugs

Lastly, the Presidency succeeded in adopting conclusions on exposure to ionising radiation used in medical imaging, as well as on the preparation for and response to off-site nuclear emergency situations.

As far as the fight against drugs is concerned, the conclusions on transposing the European Union Action Plan against drugs (2013-2016) were adopted. Furthermore, a group of experts was set up in order to analyse the impact of excessive consumption of psychoactive medications.

Detailed information on the various health-related topics dealt with during the Luxembourg Presidency can be viewed on the Health Portal at www.sante.lu.

Press release from the Ministry of Health