Time for Europe to close the health inequities gap

The link between health and social determinants is indisputable; this is why we must act to close the societal inequalities that persist in Europe, urges Sara Cerdas
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By Sara Cerdas MEP

Sara Cerdas (PT, S&D) is a vice-chair of the European Parliament's Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA)

30 Apr 2021

Education, social support, employment, and poverty are directly related to the health of a country. This is science, and it shows how the social determinants of health - the conditions into which people are born and where they work and live - are directly related to education, employment, access to clean water and sanitation, housing, environmental factors, and social and family support.

These are closely connected to the health status of a population.
Inequalities arise when there is a moral component to the differences between population groups, when their needs are tackled irrespective of their particularities. In order to close the inequalities in the EU, we must guarantee that the social determinants of health are not excluded. These measures are the ones we can take in order to improve the overall health status of a population.

“It is time to consider health as an investment, to improve the access and quality of healthcare and to address the social determinants of health in order to close the gap of iniquities” 

Obviously, these measures will condition - and will be conditioned - by healthcare and healthcare provision. We must bear in mind that accessibility to healthcare differs widely when we compare different regions, and that the lack of access to health services continues to be a reality in most remote regions.

As someone from an outermost region myself, where certain treatments or some specific care or service are not always available, I know first-hand the importance of reducing inequalities and the need to offer realistic, reliable alternatives. It is of the utmost importance to ensuring good accessibility in all regions of the EU and to all citizens, despite their health conditions. If there is an inequality in access, there will be inequities in health.

One of the biggest challenges in health is that the resources are limited and scarce - we need to use them wisely. The higher cost-benefit of public health interventions are long-term ones. Evidence shows us that for every euro invested in long-term public health interventions will deliver a fourteen-fold return. It is here that we can and should act at a European level.

As a shadow rapporteur of the EU4Health programme, we took on board the concepts of One Health approach and Health in All Policies. This helped us act not only on the health determinants but also on those measures to support universal healthcare coverage, improving the availability, accessibility, and affordability of healthcare.

The European Union has other tools to tackle health inequities and inequalities - such as the European Pharmaceutical Strategy, the Beating Cancer Plan - with the goal of improving accessibility to medicines and medical devices, improving health promotion, and increasing health literacy.

At the same time, the European Union is also acting directly and indirectly on the social determinants of health through its different policies. It is time to consider health as an investment, to improve the access and quality of healthcare and to address the social determinants of health in order to close the gap of iniquities. 

Read the most recent articles written by Sara Cerdas MEP - European Health Forum Gastein: The case for a European Health Union

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