Discussions with the EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis about Oral Health in Europe
Proffesor Alina Pūrienė, the Director of Zalgirio Clinics of Vilnius University took part in the very fruitful discussions in Brussels with the EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis on the problem of oral health in Europe, including potential solutions and future EU actions.
The meeting was opened by introducing the Platform, the multi-stakeholder approach and the scale of the European network for Oral Health and highlighting the main goals. The Commissioner responded by stressing how important it was for him to see respresentatives from Lithuania and that he already knew about the problem of oral health from his work with Alina Pūriene during his time as Lithuanian Health Minister. All participants of the discussion got across most of the Platform’s key messages including the economic and quality of life impact of oral diseases, inequalities, the links to general health and common risk factors with other chronic diseases. The work has been doing from the State of Oral Health, 2020 Targets, and EU Oral Health Card to our current activity around moving towards solutions and the collection of best practices was presented. All messages were focused around sustainability and the need to invest in prevention.
The Commissioner listed some of the challenges he is facing around oral health and prevention more generally. It is important to organise common discussions (including industry and society as a whole), how to solve inequalities between Member States and within societies (28m EU citizens are living in poverty), and how health ministers can convince their finance ministries that prevention is an investment rather than an expense. The problems with standardisation of data was stressed. The Commission is currently looking at country profiles of health systems in the Member States – he said that oral health must be enshrined in these (and the Platform offered to support the Commission in this area). This will begin with indicators for common risk factors management and benchmarks which will be agreed with all Member States.
V. P. Andriukaitis said that he saw potential scope for EU action on oral health in a number of areas, and was open to suggestions on how he could achieve each of these and be more effective at EU level (taking into account the need to work together with Member States):
• Funding through the EU Health Programme (which could include a Joint Action, although he was non-committal when we pressed on this)
• An EU framework for common risk factors management (he would push oral health to the top of this)
• Council conclusions addressing oral health (which could come from education, social affairs or health)
• Including oral health in the Commission’s country-specific recommendations and the European Semester (economic focused, looking at the need to invest in oral health prevention to ensure sustainability of healthcare systems)
• A pan-European oral health communications plan
• Mainstreaming of oral health in all policies
The Commisioner called to create public opinion and continue to help him by sending signals to society that this is a problem which must be taken seriously. The Commissioner closed the meeting by saying that he sees the Platform not only as partners but his instrument to act on oral health at EU level. He said, that oral health is a topic he is ready to take very seriously and that he is ready to lead our proposals and see how we can work together. Given the importance for him of getting all actors around the table to find solutions and work together (EU, national governments going beyond health ministries to cover finance, agriculture, education and research, industry, WHO Europe, consumers and HCPs), he agreed (subject to calendar availability) to give the opening keynote address at the Second European Oral Health Summit in October.
This access and endorsement at the highest political level shows how far Lithuania and all Netowrk has come over the last few years, and how much scope there is to broaden the general activities and achieve the set goals over the coming months and years.
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