We cannot replace our health, so let us safeguard it

MEP Zofija Mazej Kukovič, who heads the MEP Group for Kidney health in the European Parliament, hosted yesterday the ?Health Inequalities in the EU: Access to Kidney Care & Transplantation in Europe? conference.

At least 8 per cent of people living in the EU have some sort of chronic kidney disease. According to experts, at least 40 million individuals suffer from it in the EU, with the number increasing each year.

MEP Zofija Mazej Kukovič (EPP/SDS) used her opening statement to tell those assembled: ?There are currently more than 250.000 patients treated in Europe with dialysis or are in the process of receiving a kidney transplant. Our current lifestyles are without a doubt not healthy. I am convinced of the importance of a healthy diet, because otherwise we risk becoming chronically ill ourselves. Renal disease is one of them. It was precisely for the reason of increasing awareness of the importance of nutritious food, that I prepared the ?Food for Health and Jobs? competition back in Slovenia. Everything that we consume has a direct impact on our health and we cannot find a replacement for it in a store somewhere. Today?s conference represents a big opportunity for dialogue between professionals, patients and politicians. Only dialogue and awareness building can bring about positive change.?

Chairman of the European Kidney Health Alliance, professor emeritus Norbert Lameire pointed out: ?The way we treat kidney disease and the choice of dialysis differs between Member States. In Slovenia, the majority of patients receive kidneys from a deceased donor, while in the Netherlands they encourage transplants from living donors.?

In Slovenia there are around 1000 patients treated for renal failure, with an additional 450 living with a transplanted kidney. The majority of those ill receive a kidney from deceased donors. Only 0.1% of those with chronic renal disease in Slovenia suffer from end stage renal failure, putting Slovenia at the very top of renal disease survivability.

Mark Murphy from the European Kidney Patient?s Federation touched upon the issue of patient?s choice of treatment: ?We need to transplant the kidneys when they only function at 10% efficiency. It is important that when debating inequality we focus on patient?s right of choice. What is important is the choice of treatment. After all, living with a chronic illness impacts on the quality of life.?

Kitty Jager, epidemiologist and Associate Professor at the Dept. of Medical Informatics at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam, told those assembled: ?We need to find solutions. The incidence of renal diseases will only increase as the population grows older. Our job is to try and prevent or postpone the occurrence of this happening.?

The Policy & Advocacy Director for EuroHealthNet, Clive Needle, had this to say: ?The current economic and social conditions are a danger to our health, as well as the availability and fairness of healthcare. We must start fighting inequalities at the EU level.?

Helene Le Borgne from DG SANCO presented the position of the European Commision: ?In light of everything that has been said, it is worth mentioning that health policy competence remains in the hands of Member States. This is why it is not enough to just wait for the European Commission to do something. There are mechanisms, guidelines and policies, but it is up to the countries themselves to adopt and implement them. The Commission cannot do everything on its own. In 2012, 12.000 kidney transplants took place in the EU. We can improve the current situation, but not only with legislative measures. Member States need to act by themselves.?

MEP Mazej Kukovič, who hosted the event, concluded by saying: ?I am proud that my homeland of Slovenia is at the very top when it comes to the survivability of patients with chronic kidney disease. When considering the current situation in Europe, we must not forget that healthy citizens are a prerequisite for economic growth. However, today?s conference has clearly shown that we will be able to see positive developments in the future. Health should be our first concern. We will be able to achieve major and significant changes in the future by having experts, professionals, politicians, patients, Member States and other stakeholders work together.?

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