When science and policy collaborate for health

Varese, 24-25 Nov 2016.

Thank you for this opportunity to the organiser of this Conference. It is events like this that can bring further important development and cooperation on cancer issues. I am very proud that we could say, that this event is also the result of Council conclusions in 2008 when I was leading the Council of Ministers of Health, under Slovenian presidency. And thanks to all of you ? dear participants, lecturers and distinguished guests. I know each one of you within your profession and compassion, is contributing towards solving challenges we are facing.

I would like to introduce why and how reducing the burden of cancer was successful in policy making from my experience.

I was touched by cancer long before my political career. As CEO, as active member of civil society, as mother and a friend. I felt it was an issue that needed to be addressed stronger and that lead me to become one of the founding members of Europa Donna in Slovenia. Later, as Health Minister, I came face-to-face with the distress suffered by women with breast cancer. Their stories helped me realise that cancer is not just an illness; it?s something that leaves a deep mark on the lives of individuals, their families and friends. It is those stories and my own family loss that motivates me to find better solutions. I know we, as Europeans, as humans are capable off.

Important questions in policy creation were:

  • how to solve health gaps between and within Member states (MS) and the European institutions;
  • persistent inequalities in cancer incidence, mortality, prevalence and survival of cancer;
  • hospitals and clinics are too full and our health budgets emptier by the day.

Slovenia has selected cancer as a health priority during its EU Council Presidency. At the time statistics was worrisome – one in three EU citizens suffering from cancer and one in four died of cancer. We also expected a rise in the number of cancer patients, in particular among the elderly.

Our decision was based on:

  • Very professional team in Slovenia and good infrastructure.
  • Council Recommendation of 2. December 2003 on cancer screening.
  • European Parliament Resolutions on combating cancer and on breast cancer which underline the new challenges in this field for the enlarged EU.
  • WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer 2006 data showing that there were about 3,2 million of cancer cases diagnosed and 1,7 million of deaths from cancer in Europe. Breast cancer was and still is the most common cause of cancer death in women.
  • Situation at the time being that cancer research was fragmented and that improved collaboration within the framework of EU and international research was to be encouraged.
  • Importance of cancer registries (in Slovenia we have the very first cancer register) for research and development.
  • Implementation of comprehensive strategies to control cancer have resulted in lower cancer incidence and mortality and prolonged the live of cancer survivors.

During the Presidency, there were many conference and ministerial meetings. We agreed about necessity for common approach combating cancer. But still there were many discussions on how to balance very different levels of health budget, insurance health systems and educational systems for professionals in medical area. The challenge in MS was and still is also lack of human resources for screening, cancer diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and psychological, social support.

Thanks to many experts and politicians, some of them are also here with us today, we succeeded finding a compromise for Council Conclusions.

In Council conclusions among others, we invited the Commission to:

  • examine obstacles to the successful implementation of proven screening methods;
  • explore the potential of European accreditation schemes and European guidelines for quality assurance in breast cancer screening and diagnosis;
  • invite Member States to better sharing of knowledge of on-going and completed cancer research;
  • invite Member States to find ways of working together;
  • to encourage representatives of civil society to participate actively in raising awareness among the population of the risk factors for cancer.

To conclude:

Eight years later, after Council conclusions that were the baseline for financing the following projects, there is big progress. 2010 was the beginning of JOINT ACTION EUROPEAN PARTNERSHIP AGAINST CANCER. Results will be presented today.

European parliament adopted new legislation concerning risk factors like tobacco, alcohol, non-balanced nutrition. Brest Cancer and the scandal with silicon implants was among the other, a reason that legislation for medical product are coming faster to the political table.

Furthermore there is ? CANCON, a JOINT ACTION PARTNERSHIP where science and politics working closely and giving the new hope for patients. With hard work of all stakeholders I hope we could expect 15% reducing the burden of cancer until 2020.

500 million citizens are waiting for new development combating cancer. There is progress but the message for politics and scientist still is: PREVENT TO PREVENTABLE AND GIVE THE BEST POSSIBLE TREATMENT AND CARE TO CANCER PATIENTS!

Zofija Mazej Kukovič
Verese, 24.11.2016

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