Europe's beating cancer plan
During the morning session, ministers discussed the recently unveiled Europe's beating cancer plan, expressing their strong support and commitment to it. Many delegations emphasised that the plan was complementary to their national strategies and stressed the need to take into account the different starting points in member states.
The Commission set the scene by presenting the cancer plan which is based on four key action areas: prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, improvement of quality of life. The COVID-19 pandemic has a big impact in delayed detection and treatment of cancer cases, hence the need for the fight against cancer to remain a high priority.
In this context, ministers identified prevention and early detection as priority objectives in many member states; particularly measures targeting tobacco and harmful alcohol consumption. Several ministers also underlined the importance to reduce inequalities in cancer prevention and care across the EU, both between and within member states.
Some delegations also emphasised the importance to involve member states in the implementation of Europe's beating cancer plan, and to use specific indicators to monitor it.
Ministers also stressed how crucial the use and sharing of medical and scientific data can be in the fight against cancer. The digitalisation of medical services is seen by ministers as an opportunity for member states to cooperate further, exchange information and help each other. Many stressed the importance of ensuring that health data are secured and anonymised.
COVID-19 - the way ahead
In the afternoon, ministers held an exchange of views on the implementation of non-pharmaceutical interventions and policies against COVID-19 across the EU. At the beginning of the session, Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), updated ministers on the current epidemiological situation in the EU highlighting the wide spread of certain virus variants in the EU and the need to maintain prevention measures until vaccination campaigns have progressed sufficiently. Fergus Sweeny, head of the European Medicine Agency's (EMA) Clinical Studies and Manufacturing Taskforce, informed ministers that the agency is currently carrying out a full assessment and investigation on correlation between the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and thromboembolic events (following several member states' AstraZeneca vaccination suspension); the agency's conclusion on this is expected on Thursday 18 March.
Many ministers acknowledged that the epidemiological situation remains challenging, mainly due to the new virus variants, stressing that the pressure on the population's psychology, healthcare systems and economies is high. They reiterated the need to speed up vaccination campaigns, adding that restrictions and vaccines will have to co-exist for some time.
Ministers also highlighted that non-pharmaceutical interventions (such as hand and respiratory hygiene, masks, social distancing) continue to be a priority in member states' efforts in controlling the spread of the virus while vaccination campaigns unfold. They also emphasised the need for greater cooperation in information sharing and crucial prevention measures.
It is essential that we optimize, at a European level, the implementation of non-pharmaceutical interventions, so that we can be better equipped to discuss how to safely start to gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions. Nonetheless, our focus should also be the success of our national vaccination campaigns. To that end, it is imperative that we endeavour all efforts, alongside the Commission, in order to ensure the timely delivery of vaccines against COVID-19, as well as to promote a ramped up production of vaccines.
Marta Temido, Minister of Health of Portugal
Any other business
The presidency informed ministers on the state of play of European Health Union package and the proposal for a health technology assessment regulation, explaining its intention to seek to adopt a Coreper mandate in order to begin the negotiations with the European Parliament on the latter as soon as possible.
-16 March 2021
-16 March 2021