On June 1, 2023, SANT, the Subcommittee on Public Health of the European Parliament organised a hearing on prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), meant to inform a motion for a Resolution, a draft Report of which is expected by the end of August. As Director General of EPHA, the leading public health alliance in Europe, I was invited to provide an expert intervention.
During the hearing, I highlighted the urgent need to address NCDs in Europe, emphasising the importance of primordial prevention in tackling this major health challenge. I stressed the significance of considering health equity and the interconnected determinants of health in formulating effective policies.
Five key facts substantiate EPHA’s ask for an urgent, strategic and systemic approach to tackling NCDs, including that:
- NCDs are the priority, as they represent Europe’s foremost health challenge. More than 90% of premature deaths, and 85% of the burden of diseases in the EU are attributable to NCDs. 
- NCDs are expensive, amounting to € 700 billion spent every year on chronic diseases in the European Union.  The financial burden of the 4 most common NCDs in the EU reaches the 25% of health spending, and correspond to a 2% loss of gross domestic product.  Premature mortality from NCDs results in a loss of €115 billion per year to the economy, or 0.8% of EU GDP. 
- NCDs are preventable. At least 80% of all heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and 40% of cancer cases could be prevented if the main risk factors for NCDs were addressed/ 
- Tackling NCDs requires an EU-wide strategy, with a strong prevention pillar. For many years, EPHA together with its members and many other NGOs, have been calling for a comprehensive EU strategy to tackle NCDs.  EPHA provided detailed feedback for much needed improvements of the Healthier Together initiative, which lacks the ambitious approach to prevention utilised in the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. 
- Tackling determinants of health is key for success. The determinants of health  are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, shaped by economic and social policies, development agendas, social norms, and political systems, all falling well within the boundaries of EU competences. Tackling them directly and systematically will have a powerful compounding effect on health equity and on health itself, including on the NCDs.
This spotlight on the inextricable link between NCDs and health equity was in a strong alignment with that of another panelist, Prof João Filipe Raposo, Board Member of International Diabetes Federation Europe, one of EPHA’s members.
While NCDs represent the biggest burden of disease in the EU, the continuous rise in their incidence proves the current policies addressing the NCDs insufficiently effective. What we lack in Europe is a strategic, systemic approach to NCD prevention. The blueprint of a solid prevention approach was already developed and presented in the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, but it is missing from the Europe’s Healthier Together initiative on NCDs.
Europe needs an overarching NCDs strategy that will tackle social, commercial and political determinants of health, to ensure that risk factors for all NCDs are addressed. Only if we address all the determinants of health, consider their interconnectedness, and secure robust collaboration among all stakeholders, shall we create health-conducive environments and reduce the risk of developing NCDs.
As the leading public health alliance in Europe, for the last thirty years EPHA has been actively working towards developing and implementing effective, equitable, and evidence-based approaches for better health for all. As we move forward, EPHA, together with its members, strongly believes that there is significant room for improvement in addressing the NCD emergency in Europe. We are committed to providing a united and cohesive voice to support the work of the SANT Subcommittee, and dedicated to advancing public health in Europe.
- EU burden from non-communicable diseases and key risk factors | Knowledge for policy (europa.eu)
- ev_20140403_mi_en_0.pdf (europa.eu)
- The financial burden of non-communicable diseases in the European Union: a systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Health at a Glance: Europe 2016 : State of Health in the EU Cycle | Health at a Glance: Europe | OECD iLibrary (oecd-ilibrary.org)
- Noncommunicable diseases: Risk factors (who.int)
- Joint Paper I Towards an EU strategic framework for the prevention of NCDs – EPHA