Revising our social and political priorities to ensure health equity across Europe

On 10th December we celebrate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948, three years after the end of the Second World War. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a milestone for European history, demonstrating political commitment to guarantee the rights of all human beings and prevent further atrocities across Europe. The Declaration has inspired European and national legislations providing the basis for effective human rights protection. Equality and non-discrimination have been identified as guiding principles for many policy and legislative frameworks and their role for building an equitable and fair society is of utmost importance. 

However, the current situation across Europe has demonstrated existing gaps and limitations in human rights protection. Disproportionate rates of social exclusion are observed among certain socio-economic and population groups, such as ethnic minorities, Roma, migrants and people with a migrant background, homeless people, disabled persons, prisoners, LGBTIQ+ showing inequalities in access to basic rights and services. The recent pandemic has further worsened the social divide, hitting hard the most vulnerable adults and children. According to the most recent FRA bulletin addressing the pandemic’s impact on social rights, de facto equal and timely access to healthcare has not been ensured in COVID-19. In many EU Member States hospitals reduced access to non-COVID-19 related care, which affects individuals and communities’ health, including women’s sexual and reproductive health. Disparities in access to health protection and prevention are one of consequences of the pandemic revealing long-standing issues that require policy response through adequate social investment to reduce inequalities within countries. 

Considering the current social, economic and political challenges impacting human rights protection, including individuals and communities’ health and well-being, the European Public Health Alliance relaunches the European Charter for Health Equity. Initially presented in 2010, the Charter has become even more relevant in the context of the pandemic and can contribute to advance health equity across Europe. Systemic inequalities between population groups persist in relation with social, economic and environmental determinants of health, as well as major factors such as human rights protection and protection against discrimination. They lead to a serious loss of human potential and generate high costs for society, wherefore they must not be tolerated.  

Tackling health disparities is a path towards societal progress and stability across Europe. This objective can be achieved through a strong mobilisation of all relevant stakeholders, including civil society and in particular decision makers, public authorities, European and national regulatory and Human rights bodies. Individuals’ and communities’ health and well-being must be placed at the heart of European and national policies, including specific measures aiming to mitigate the pandemic effects. They must advance equality and equity across the Union by ensuring stronger human rights protection of the society’s most vulnerable members. 

Consequently, the Charter reaffirms the commitment to fundamental rights of every human being as well as the principles of health protection and prevention of good quality promoted by the TFEU, the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights, the European Pillar of Social Rights. It aims to safeguard health protection and prevention is accessible, available and affordable for all. Looking beyond the health sector, the Charter promotes a set of values such as solidarity, gender equality, sustainability, inclusiveness, transparency and participation through mainstreaming health equity and social justice in all relevant European, national and local policies.

Its ultimate goal is to achieve a positive change in social, gender and environmental determinants of health by transforming shared values into action with an objective to strengthen commitments on health equity. We are all a driving force for such a change and we all play a role in promoting health equity and social justice in social, economic and political life.  

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