European Commission proposes EU4Health programme in response to COVID-19

The European Parliament and the Council has agreed on a provisional political agreement to launch a new COVID-19 recovery response programme called EU4Health.

The programme aims to make contributions to the recovery response by strengthening the resilience of health systems and promoting medical innovation and digital transformation in the sector. It will also aim to fill the gaps revealed by the pandemic and ensure that the EU is prepared if faced with new health threats.

The programme aims to boost the EU’s preparedness for major cross border health threats by creating:

  • Reserves of medical supplies for crises.
  • A reserve of healthcare staff and experts that can be mobilised to respond to crises across the EU.
  • Increased surveillance of health threats.
  • Strengthen health systems so that they can face epidemics as well as long-term challenges by stimulating.
  • Disease prevention and health promotion in an ageing population.
  • Digital transformation of health systems.
  • Access to health care for vulnerable groups.
  • Make medicines and medical devices available and affordable, advocate the prudent and efficient use of antimicrobials as well as promote medical and pharmaceutical innovation and greener manufacturing.

WHY IT MATTERS

One of the six political priorities of the Commission 2019-2024 is to build “A Europe fit for the digital age” to improve tools and services that use information and communication technologies for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management of health issues.  

This builds on the Commission’s Communication on the Transformation of Digital Health and Care of April 2018 which aims to enhance the digitisation of the health and care sectors.

The Communication has highlighted three pillars of focus:

  • Secure data access and sharing.
  • Connecting and sharing health data for research, faster diagnosis and improved health.
  • Strengthening citizen empowerment and individual care through digital services.

“The challenge is significant, but the prize is even greater as lessons need to be learnt and systems need to be more adept at managing the next pandemic.”

— Dr Charles Alessi, chief clinical officer, HIMSS

Through this, the aim is for health systems to benefit from innovative care models that use telehealth and mHealth to address the rising demand for healthcare and to shift towards integrated and personalised care systems.

Once adopted, the EU’s long-term budget, coupled with the NextGenerationEU initiative, will be the largest stimulus package ever financed through the EU budget.

The programme now needs to be approved by the Council before it can be officially launched. The first work programme for 2021 will be rolled-out following the formal adoption of EU4Health once the full budget is raised.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

As the debate has grown on the topic of vaccine passports, EU leaders recently discussed the possibility of common national measures to allow travel between member states.

ON THE RECORD

Margaritis Schinas, vice-president for promoting our European way of life, said: “The crisis hit us all symmetrically, with no discrimination. But at the same time, we were faced with an asymmetry between citizens’ expectations and the limited EU responsibilities on health issues. With today’s agreement, we are making the first decisive step to bridge this gap.

“We are strengthening our policy responses in the areas where Europe has traditionally been weak or with limited competences, like health. The new EU4Health Programme approved today represents one of the most explicit and tangible replies to COVID-19: we now have in our hands a health instrument to address a health crisis.”

Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for health and food safety, said: “Our new EU4Health programme is the foundation of a resilient and strong European Health Union. It is our answer to the gaps revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent need to modernise the EU’s health systems.

“Today we are sending a clear message that public health is a priority for Europe. That we stand ready to invest in our collective crisis preparedness and build back stronger, more resilient and accessible health systems, in line with what our citizens rightfully expert from our Union.”

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