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On 18 March, HFE attended the 13th meeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs). Chaired by MEP Edite Estrela (S&D, Portugal) the meeting reflected on the contribution of the group to public health at EU level and the main challenges for the next Parliament and Commission.

Given that rheumatic diseases elicit the highest cost to European health care and socioeconomic systems (more than 200 billion euros per year), EULAR has been working to reduce the burner of rheumatic diseases on individuals and the society and to improve the treatment, the prevention and rehabilitation of people affected by RMDs. Since 2009, EULAR is running the Secretariat of the EP Interest Group on RMDs. This EP Interest Group involves 25 MEPs and several stakeholders and it aims at gathering information, raising awareness, promoting discussion and EP initiatives on RMDs.

At the final meeting of the group before the European elections, various stakeholders provided their views regarding the progress achieved and the remaining challenges for people with rheumatic diseases.  Sylvain Giraud, Head of the Unit for Health Strategy and International issues at DG SANCO, gave a broad overview of the European Commission’s work in public health, reiterating the need to see health as value and an engine for growth. He reminded participants that, “Health is connected strongly with social cohesion, it a key figure on public spending and it is an economic sector with enormous growing possibilities”. He also remarked that European Health systems are facing several challenges, among the others the economic crisis, the increasing of inequalities, cross border threats, the free movement of products and people.  Despite health policies are a national responsibility, the EU has worked in direction of proving a legal framework to coordinate health national policies such as through the Europe 2020 Strategy, the EU Health Strategy, and the Investing in Health Paper launched in 2013.  The Commission aims to support Member States to guarantee the highest possible level of public health to European citizens by improving health service, fostering prevention and facilitating cross border healthcare. Mr. Giraud underlined the value of “working together in the health sector”, in his opinion health should be targeted through all the EU policies.

Building upon the work of the European Commission, Kai Michelsen, Assistant Professor at Maastricht University’s Faculty of International Health, provided a critical overview of EU action on health from an academic perspective. He did not deny the central role of the EU institutions in tackling with common health challenges, polling resources, but he pointed out the difficulties the European Commission must face when it comes to balancing priorities and economic resources.

Finally, Leonardo Palumbo, Policy Coordinator for EU Affairs at the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), presented EPHA’s Manifesto for the European Parliament elections. EPHA calls on political parties and individual Members of the European Parliament candidates to ensure that health and well-being in Europe are ranked as high as they are valued. Mr. Palumbo summarized the 4 priorities of EPHA’s Manifesto which include:  Refocus Europe’s Business Plan on the well-being of people; Create a people-centric economy: quality work for all; Create an inclusive, sustainable society; and to encourage strong public-interest based health policy.

In her closing remarks, MEP Estrela thanked the participants of the EP Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs) for their hard work during the past 5 years and emphasised that it is necessary to do more to keep improving the lives of people affected by RMDs.