Make health a priority in the new mandate

From mental health to drug discovery, the Covid-19 pandemic was a wake-up call on the need to put health and wellbeing at the centre of EU policy, writes MEP Stelios Kympouropoulos

By Stelios Kympouropoulos

Stelios Kympouropoulos (EL, EPP) is a member of Parliament’s EMPL and PETI Committees, the SANT Subcommittee and substitute in the ENVI Committee.

05 Apr 2024

As we embark on a new mandate, the landscape of Europe in 2029 must transform the continent's approach to health and wellbeing. The lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic have underscored the need for pandemic preparedness. Looking forward, the European Parliament must keep health as a key priority, and lead efforts to reinforce resilience. Investments in research, healthcare infrastructure, and private and public collaborations will be of paramount importance to ensure a swift and effective response to any future health crises.

The fragments of Covid-19 pandemic were a wake-up call for the deteriorating mental health issues of European Union citizens. Mental health and social wellbeing are cornerstones of a flourishing society. Although the Parliament’s Committee of Public Health directly addressed mental health in an own-initiative report, where I was the shadow Rapporteur on behalf of EPP, an EU strategy on mental health should be one of the key priorities for the next mandate. Even before the pandemic, at least 84 million people across the EU had mental health issues. The next five years will necessitate a renewed focus on mental health initiatives; breaking down stigma, fostering inclusive environments and investing in research to create a society that supports both physical and mental health.

Moreover, innovation and research should focus most on the areas where we are facing unmet medical needs. 30 million EU citizens are rare disease patients, yet only five per cent of them have treatment options. Having an EU action plan on rare diseases would help address inequalities among the member states. As clinical trials are hard to conduct, exchanging information and expertise across the member states would help improve early diagnosis through newborn screening programmes and allow for better treatment options and personalised care for rare disease patients.

The next five years will necessitate a renewed focus on mental health initiatives… to create a society that supports both physical and mental health

Drug discovery is commonly denied approval due to lack of clinical data. Conducting clinical trials is even harder for rare diseases. In contrary to traditional clinical trials, real-world evidence can provide valuable insides into how treatments perform beyond the controlled setting of clinical trials. Moreover, various computational methods, including silico methods, can complement experimental approaches in drug discovery, providing enough data to address research where no clinical trials can take place. These methods can be cost efficient, time-saving and environmentally friendly, while allowing for better clinical management and significantly improve health outcomes.

It is therefore important to explore how data and digital technologies can improve patient care. The next mandate should build upon and best utilise the reform of the pharmaceutical legislation and the European Health Database towards addressing unmet needs, creating a Europe that fully realises the potential of health data and remains at the forefront of health innovation. 

Starting from the next mandate, we must re-evaluate our healthcare systems, and prioritise sustainable solutions, preventive care and cross-border collaboration. We must explore innovative solutions, promote health literacy and ensure the inclusion and safe use of digital health technologies, including artificial intelligence. All these will be vital components in building resilient and adaptable healthcare systems.

Read the most recent articles written by Stelios Kympouropoulos - Reform of Pharmaceutical Legislation: A Vision for a Competitive and Compassionate EU