Giving health policy the attention it deserves

Written by Peter Liese on 22 May 2020 in Opinion
Opinion

In light of the current Coronavirus crisis, doctors in the European Parliament, including myself, are united in the pledge to make health a new priority in EU policy.

Photo credit: Peter Liese office


Like many other European health care workers, I decided to return to my original profession at the beginning of the Corona pandemic.

Fortunately, Germany managed the pandemic well, so our health system was not overwhelmed and I did not have to continue beyond mid-April.

Other colleagues, like Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, Renew Europe (France/Greece) and Manuel Pizarro, S&D (Portugal), also went back to their original profession.


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Together we are united in the pledge to make health a new priority in EU policy.

Unfortunately, it is consistently claimed that the EU has no competence in health. This is completely wrong, given that Article 114 of the Treaty obliges us to provide a high level of health protection. Moreover, Article 168 - a specific article on health - explicitly mentions transmissible diseases.

That is why it was a big mistake that in previous years, the European institutions were not given enough priority. The Commission under Ursula von der Leyen is about to change this and this is right.

“Ursula von der Leyen was one of the few leading politicians that admitted that they underestimated the virus. We are now working together day and night to address the pandemic”

Ursula von der Leyen was one of the few leading politicians that admitted that they underestimated the virus. We are now working together day and night to address the pandemic.

A lot has already been achieved, such as the postponement of the medical device regulation, which enables companies to produce equipment like ventilators without unnecessary burden. However, much more remains to be done.

Along with my fellow doctors I insist on the following points: First, there must be a prudent approach when lifting the lockdown. Social distancing needs to be kept in place and we have to be careful to avoid a second wave.

The new MFF must be focused much more on health, including a separate health action programme.

A vaccine and therapy need to be developed as soon as possible and must be made available for all EU citizens. Agencies such as ECDC and EMA also need to be strengthened, and above all, we ask for a tracing app.

The virus affected South Korea much earlier than Europe. South Korea has 50 million inhabitants and less than 300 people died from COVID-19. This is due to many measures, but one decisive point was a tracing app.

We cannot copy-paste the Korean app because they have different rules for data protection, but if we can limit the economic damage and at the same time save lives then we should go for it.

Additionally, to find, test and approve a COVID-19 vaccine, we need unprecedented international cooperation, not national discrimination.

“To find, test and approve a COVID-19 vaccine, we need unprecedented international cooperation, not national discrimination”

Once developed, we must ensure that everyone in the world gets the vaccine based on medical criteria and as quickly as possible. Vaccines must be available for all, not just for one country.

All vaccines have to be thoroughly tested before they are approved by the European Medicines Agency. I encourage their approach towards shortening the approval procedures, while maintaining high safety standards.

It is crucial to be both quick and thorough. We also have to be prepared for the scenario whereby a COVID-19 vaccine is found in a third country which does not want to make it available to the whole world.

EU Member States must cooperate to the fullest in order to develop a vaccine or a drug against COVID-19.

It is in the interest of all for the vaccine to be developed in Europe. We have no time to waste.

About the author

Peter Liese is the EPP Group’s spokesman for health

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