Parliament: Better prevention and early diagnosis of non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for 90% of all deaths in the EU.

MEPs propose actions to prevent and lower the prevalence of non-communicable diseases in the EU, in order to reduce the burden on healthcare systems and on citizens’ quality of life.

The report, prepared by the Subcommittee on Public Health, was adopted with 63 votes in favour, two against and five abstentions.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, chronic respiratory diseases, mental disorders or cancer are responsible for 80% of the disease burden (the largest share of EU member states’ healthcare expenditures with an estimated cost of EUR 115 billion or 0.8% of GDP annually) and cause 90% of all deaths in the EU countries. In December 2021, the Commission launched the “Healthier together – EU non-communicable diseases (NCD) initiative”.

Stronger measures towards NCDs prevention

MEPs stress that prevention is key in combating NCDs. They underline the need to address the main factors that substantially increase the risk of NCDs, including tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets, environmental factors, UV radiation and chemical exposure. They specifically call on the Commission to urgently implement the proposed restriction of “forever chemicals” (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances or PFAS), which can lead to serious medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cancer.

Improving early diagnosis and targeted health checks

MEPs call on member states to reduce undiagnosed NCDs by introducing targeted health checks of high-risk individuals, to address main risk factors such as high blood pressure, blood glucose, body mass index and “bad” cholesterol levels. They also want support for the development and use of accessible, affordable and novel tools to diagnose NCDs in at-risk populations.

Closer European cooperation

The report highlights that efforts to fight NCDs should be integrated into all relevant EU policies. It also calls on national health authorities to work together and share expertise, data, training programmes, communication tools and evidence-based best practices, and on the Commission to establish EU NCD partnerships where appropriate.

Other key recommendations include: strengthening the EU medicines market to ensure equal and affordable access to medicines and innovative treatments, and alleviate medicine shortages; fostering and accelerating public-private partnerships to strengthen innovation; improving research in NCDs including interconnections between communicable and non-communicable diseases.

“The European Parliament has previously presented ambitious plans for beating cancer and COVID-19. Today, we present an ambitious report to combat non-communicable diseases where we address many other diseases that reduce Europeans’ quality of life. It is important to strengthen actions towards prevention, diagnosing people as early as possible, improving data and research in NCDs, improving knowledge and sharing of best practices between member states and strengthening incentives for investments in innovation,” said rapporteur Erik Poulsen (Renew, Denmark).

The report is expected to be adopted in plenary in December 2023.

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