Health First Europe attended the 6th meeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs) which was held on 22 June 2011 at the Parliament. This EP Interest Group, in line with the 7th Flagship of 2020 Strategy ‘Innovation Union’ and the Pilot European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, aims to shape the European Parliament input for future legislation on RMDs, to support continuous awareness-raising in society and to bring the EU closer to citizens and patients. The Chair of the Interest Group, Edite Estrela (S&D, Portugal) and the Vice-Chair, Jim Higgins (EPP, Ireland), brought together representatives from the European Commission, experts, academics and associations to discuss  how concretely RMDs can contribute to Active and Health Ageing targets.

The European Commission stressed that the European headline target by 2020 should increase the number of healthy life years by two in the European Union on average. From this perspective, Ms. Marianne van den Berg, Policy Analyst Unit Innovation for Health and Consumers at DG SANCO, described the running process on European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (AHAIP) and reminded participants that it aims to create a triple win for Europe: enabling EU citizens to lead healthy, active and independent lives while ageing; improving the sustainability and efficiency of health systems; creating innovative solutions and new opportunities for businesses. For this purpose, the three AHAIP related Working Groups, have already met to update projects and the timeline. The Commission will assist in the selection of some highlighted projects from each Working Group to organise ideas and produce effective teams.

In the context of the AHAIP, Chairperson of the Standing Committee of PARE, Jacqueline Mäder, remarked that ageing and RMDs have quite significant consequences on labour markets and health care systems creating significant costs for the society. In particular, RMDs can lead to long term sickness and early retirement. Concerning social security and healthcare systems, RMDs are the second most common reason for consulting a doctor and have a high impact on the costs of hospitalization in general. She expressed that to face barriers such as funding opportunities, lack of evidence and data, need for regulation and framework conditions, key areas for change and innovation have to be determined. Diverse recommendations have been proposed by participants: early diagnosis and treatment, lifestyle interventions, access to quality care, education, patients’ involvement, evidence-based etc.

Overall, the event focused on the fact that the number of people with RMDs is expected to increase significantly with the ageing demographics in coming years. To cope with these important social and technological challenges, effective measures need to be taken by European policy-makers and civil society for defining a common vision on the necessity to extend healthy life span for people with RMDs. To close the session, MEP Higgins insisted on the necessity to pass a clear message from the European Parliament Interest Group on RMDs objectives and activities to stakeholders’ and continue their involvement and contribution in this issue area.

Edite Estrela’s website:

Jim Higgins’ website: