Global Week for Action on NCDs: Five key actions for Europe to accelerate progress in the response to chronic diseases

The Global Week for Action on NCDs (non-communicable diseases) 2020 starts today. A week to keep up momentum for action on chronic disease prevention and control at a pivotal time for the European Union: as pandemic recovery plans are defined and ongoing budget negotiations will frame public health efforts for the coming years.

The COVID-19 crisis reflects the impact of major chronic (non-communicable) diseases on our societies and the vulnerability of patients and healthcare systems. It shows that health issues are intertwined, and that we cannot respond to the pandemic – caused by a respiratory pathogen – without integrating prevention and control of chronic diseases in recovery plans (action #1).

Innovative measures are needed to address their high and growing prevalence in Europe.

Taking a more strategic approach to disease prevention

The various objectives of the EU Green Deal, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, Farm to Fork strategy etc are welcome and will likely bring tangible results in protecting citizens from the main risk factors of chronic diseases. However, Europe needs a comprehensive strategic framework for disease prevention (action #2), that will allow a better coordination of efforts among sectors, policies and goals; more alignment with WHO recommendations and greater implementation of successful practices across EU countries in relevant areas. This will further embed public health objectives and prevention into all EU policies.

Putting in place new structures at EU-level to promote health and improve chronic disease control

There is a clear unmet need for a European mechanism to collect and analyse harmonised and comparable data on diseases and risk factors (action #3) at EU level. This should be defined as a high priority for EU financing and could be put into motion as part of the European Health Data Space. Without creating the capacities to collect reliable data in a uniformed way, policymakers and all relevant actors will have limited ability to define policies that truly respond to the scale of the problem and to evaluate the outcomes of actions taken. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown more than ever the need for health data to be interoperable.

Further, extending the mandate of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to chronic disease prevention and management (action #4) in Europe now becomes paramount, to allow the agency to provide guidance to act on a major health challenge that is common to every EU country, and that has important links with other health threats falling under the agency’s remit.

The EU has the means to expand the successful model of the European Reference Networks (ERNs) to chronic diseases, especially for improved management of co-morbidities (action #5) – this should be acted upon in a timely manner. EU cooperation will be precious due to the complexity of cases.

All of these actions will necessitate investment. While institutions are negotiating the EU budget for 2021-2027 and the funds to support pandemic recovery, it is essential that public health and health research be prioritised. The EU4Health programme shall remain a strong instrument to deliver its ambitious objectives, notably to respond to chronic diseases; and support Member States meet their United Nations commitments in the field.

More information about the Global Week for Action on NCDs here