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NEWS: Health First Europe attended the 8th meeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs) which was held on 20 March at the European Parliament. This EP Interest Group, in line with the Council Conclusions of 2010 on chronic diseases, aims to develop an EU strategy on chronic diseases generally, and to discuss the EU reflection on chronic diseases in particular. Chaired by MEP Edite Estrela (S&D, Portugal) and co-chaired by Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE, Bulgaria), this meeting brought together representatives from the European Commission, experts and associations to launch a further discussion with key stakeholders in the area of chronic diseases and related issues.

According to Michael Huebel, Head of Unit Health Determinants, DG Health and Consumers, challenges such as cutting health budgets, better addressing and preventing illnesses are all part of the chronic disease issue. Across the European institutions and national authorities, chronic disease remains a key debate and some positive developments can be seen on the horizon. Indeed, a discussion paper on the EU reflection process on chronic diseases has been prepared to guide stakeholders in preparing an initial position as part of a reflection process on the issue led by the European Commission and EU Member States. The aim is to identify issues, gaps and suggestions for action to improve current policies and activities on chronic diseases, both at national and EU levels. Under the Belgian Presidency of the European Union, the Council Conclusions on Chronic Diseases were adopted in 2010 by focusing on four chapters: social and health issues, long-term care, disease management and research.

Attending the meeting, the Danish Presidency of the European Union reminded stakeholders of the the Danish priority in the chronic disease debate- prevent the burden of chronic conditions by promoting an active self-management and a longer active and healthy ageing life.

From a RMDs perspective, the reflection process on chronic diseases aims to optimise the response to the challenges of chronic diseases and cooperation between Member States in four areas: health promotion and prevention, healthcare, research and comparable information. Priorities should be given to major initiatives including actions addressing main societal challenges (e.g. healthy ageing, mobility); groups of diseases representing a major burden on individuals and societies (not only focus on mortality rates, but also on morbidity, co-morbidity, disability and social and economic impact); expand research activities, basic, clinical and transnational, in chronic diseases; and achieve a balance between primary prevention, secondary prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. Keeping people longer at work (one of the main challenges the EU is facing); to adopt a specific RMDs strategy with an action plan for a significant economy impact.

As regards the proliferation of strategies at the EU level, those in attendance suggested that policy-makers have to adopt more sensible, specific actions to address chronic diseases with an efficient prevention system by adding in components of analysis and good practices and keeping cross- sector collaboration in this area. Moreover, a positive attitude from MEPs and the European Commission will ensure the success towards an EU strategy on RMDs.