Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic: EU funds and health system strengthening

Health systems strengthening is a key objective of the EU4Health Programme, all the more so since the full gravity of the impacts of the ongoing pandemic crisis remain to be discovered.  Many health systems already hard hit by Europe’s financial and economic crisis received a harsh new blow by COVID-19, and health workers and patient-citizens alike were faced with system collapse in many parts of Europe during the different stages of the pandemic. It soon became obvious that decades of neglect and underfinancing in certain countries and regions contributed to making a bad state of affairs much, much worse. This dire and urgent situation calls for a radical break with old ways of operating and for new, effective, and innovative ideas to be implemented quickly – without losing sight of solidarity, inclusion, and social cohesion.

In 2020, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr. Hans Kluge convened an independent and interdisciplinary group of leaders to rethink policy priorities in the face of pandemics. The so-called Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development, chaired by former Italian Prime Minister Professor Mario Monti (also President of Bocconi University) recently concluded its reflection process, which resulted in the publication of a final report Drawing light from the pandemic: A new strategy for health and sustainable development (2021) as well as an Evidence Review. They include seven objectives and five lessons learned, which are broadly aligned with EPHA’s own thinking around the serious and pressing challenges European health systems are facing today.

A new EPHA reflection paper, Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic: which EU funds can help? takes the Pan-European Commission’s recommendations as an inspiration to discuss how European health systems could be fixed with the help of the available new funds for health in the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework. The premise is that, all too often, excellent ideas are on the table, but too little attention is given to practicalities such as financing and governance.  Specifically, the paper looks at three themes: stronger health systems, stronger societies, and implementing a One Health approach. It explores the potential utility of EU funds that could be harnessed for addressing the gaps in each of the themes. A particular, additional challenge in this context might also be ensuring the best possible coordination between different funding streams.

What is clear is that the heavy human and economic costs of complacency or inaction are far too burdensome: the crisis caused by the pandemic was preventable, and it must serve as a catalyst for bringing about lasting changes.

The reflection paper was written by Victoria Kirkby, a public health registrar hosted by EPHA who supported the work of the Pan-European Commission as a research fellow.


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