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European experts highlight urgent need to bridge health gap

Health inequalities summit calls for a society-wide approach to reducing the health burden on most vulnerable in society

Tallinn, Estonia: Global health inequalities are growing during the current economic climate, and must be tackled urgently, a summit in Tallinn has heard this weekend (8-9 June 2012).

Organised by the European Respiratory Society (ERS), a key message of the summit was that health inequalities are avoidable and we must act now to reduce this burden which currently affects the most vulnerable in society.

Speakers at the conference discussed the great diversity in health care systems across Europe and delegates heard from scientists and policymakers about the best solutions for tackling health inequalities, which are estimated to cost €1 trillion or 9.5% of Europe’s GDP.*

It is well known that social inequality is linked to poor health. The gap between the richest and the poorest in society is widening during the economic crisis in Europe and governments are required to make difficult decisions about budgets during times of austerity.

This gap is particularly prominent for respiratory diseases. Social inequality causes a higher proportion of deaths in respiratory disease than in any other diseases. It is associated with social inequalities in all age-groups, particularly in children and prevention of respiratory infections could make a major contribution to reducing health inequalities.

Delegates at the summit heard from national policymakers including Hanno Pevkur, the Estonian Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Dr Ingrida Circene, Health and the Latvian Minister of Health, political representatives from Lithuania and representatives from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and European Commission, who shared experiences of the European-wide approach to addressing health problems.

One issue discussed was the importance of long-term strategies to tackle inequalities from birth and prevent a vicious cycle of unequal healthcare throughout generations. Speakers also highlighted the need for targeted messaging to help empower patients to better manage their illnesses in order to reduce inequalities.

The ERS is now calling for all medical societies to take a leading role in tackling health inequalities. A key message from the summit was that health should be considered by all policymakers as the well-being of a nation should be a cross-sectorial responsibility from transport to education to agriculture. It should be of particular importance to the Finance Department, to ensure health is prioritised during austerity measures.

Professor Klaus Rabe, President of the European Respiratory Society, said: “Low-socio economic status is a preventable risk factor in developing respiratory disease and other health conditions and we must act now to improve the current situation.

“Social inequality causes a higher proportion of deaths in respiratory disease than in any other diseases. It is associated with social inequalities in all age-groups, particularly in children and prevention of respiratory infections could make a major contribution to reducing health inequalities.

“Wise political decisions and advocacy can lead to results and it is up to the scientific community to ensure we are providing policymakers with evidence-based solutions for tackling the problem efficiently and effectively.”

Notes to editors:

The aim of the summit was to follow on from goals set out in the Tallinn charter and exchange experiences amongst healthcare stakeholders on the best ways to avoid health inequalities.

About the ERS

The European Respiratory Society is the leading professional organisation in its field in Europe. It is broad-based, with some 10,000 members in over 100 countries. Its scope covers both basic science and clinical medicine.

Visit the European Respiratory Journal website to view this and other recent papers

The European Lung White Book will be launched at the European Respiratory Society annual Congress in Barcelona on 8 September 2013. The White Book will be available online and in print from September 2013.

For further information on the ERJ, please contact: info@europeanlung.org ,European Lung Foundation

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