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The current Covid-19 crisis has thrown many European, and indeed global, healthcare issues into sharp relief.
It has also raised important questions, not necessarily new ones, but ones that have shifted more into focus during the pandemic.
One such question is whether the EU should have a bigger role in public health – and particularly in the provision of health technology. This, of course, would impinge upon the closely guarded Member State competence in healthcare so, if this were to happen, how would that be?
Another question is how can the now very evident gaps be bridged to in order to better protect protect Europe’s health ahead of another crisis? What are the priorities? The broader question, as mentioned above, is whether it’s time to give the EU a bigger role in Europe’s health protection.
As the pandemic has unravelled and lethally struck at the heart of Europe, the deficiencies in availability and supply of necessary assets for responding have become overtly clear.
There have been huge shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, as well as too little basic ICU equipment, devices and and infrastructure.
On top of this, there has been inadequate provision of high-tech procedures and processes, for testing (both for infection and for immunity), a shortage of medicine for symptomatic treatment, for any curative therapy, and (not surprisingly given the timescale) for preventive vaccines.
Now, at least in terms of vaccines and medicines, the public and private sectors are being encouraged to deepen cooperation in some areas of research and supply. This raises the obvious question of why, if such cooperation is deemed highly desirable in a time of crisis, shouldn’t it happen as a matter of routine?
Looking back into the recent past – mere months, in fact – several healthcare issues were in the news not least for dividing the EU, such as elusive cooperation on HTA, as well as research incentives for orphan and paediatric medicines, and indeed the use of biosimilars. On top of this were, and are, issues surrounding dealing with anti-microbial resistance, parallel importing, and adaptive licensing.
The list goes on and on… So will the sudden, enforced Member State cooperation on Covid-19 be echoed in these other case? And if so, how?
Meanwhile, it is clear that many long-term questions have also been raised during the still-serious crisis, not least about Europe’s manufacturing capacity, with the pandemic accentuating Europe’s dependence on imports of health-related assets that have been systematically outsourced.
Should measures be taken to encourage (or oblige) relocation of essential manufacture of medicines and ingredients to the EU?
Coming to light have been proposals for some form of European state-owned research and production facilities, as well as about setting up a European strategy for pharmaceutical supply and the pharmaceutical industry.
Should this be more firmly integrated into EU decision-making structures? And if so, how?
There are many questions to be answered, with the above and more set to be debated at this conference.