Public Health : Member States Vow to Combat Cancer Globally

Article excerpt

The fight against cancer will benefit from a global European strategy, according to the conclusions adopted at the close of the Health Council, on 10 June in Luxembourg. A number of initiatives already exist against this plague, which kills 1.7 million Europeans per year (2006 figures). In 2003, the EU had adopted a recommendation to improve the detection of the most widespread forms (breast cancer, cervical cancer and bowel cancer). Meanwhile, the European Parliament has not stopped underlining the difficulties of Central and Eastern European countries: their cancer mortality rate is higher than in Western Europe.

Still, the risks continue to increase with the ageing of the population. In future, a third of EU citizens will suffer from cancer and a quarter will die from it, according to data quoted by the Slovenian Presidency of the EU, lung cancer remaining the most deadly.

The 27 member states are committed to strengthen their common objectives: prevention against infectious agents, such as the high-risk papillomavirus, Hepatitis B and Helicobacter pylori, public information, via for example the promotion of a European code against cancer', and better data collection. Recourse to certain financial mechanisms, such as the EU's Structural Funds, is also planned to increase prevention and the capacities of health and training infrastructures.

These questions are to be placed in parallel with another highly sensitive debate: that of the liberalisation of patient information on prescription medicines. On this point, the priorities of member states are not those of the Commission, which would like to strengthen the influence of the industry. Luxembourg thus underlined the "unprecedented aggressiveness" of information campaigns undertaken by the industry to promote the new vaccine against cervical cancer (HPV) developed by Merck and Sanofi-Pasteur and GSK. Ireland has already mentioned high patient demand, whereas the vaccine is still undergoing scientific studies prior to a possible national authorisation.

The Commission is preparing an action plan against cancer in the Union for 2009. …