Swedish Presidency presents its six-month programme: lack of action on diabetes and NCDs on the health agenda

03 January 2023

On 1 January 2023, Sweden took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (see its programme here). At the highest political level, the Swedish Presidency will focus on three priority areas: 

  • Security – prioritisation of continued economic and military support for Ukraine, as well as support for Ukraine’s path towards membership of the EU.
  • Competitiveness – a sound and open economy based on free competition, private investment and successful digitalisation.
  • Green & energy transition – tackling high and volatile energy prices while making the transition to a resource-efficient, fossil-free future.

In the area of health, the Swedish Presidency will address the proposal concerning a Regulation for a European Health Data Space (EHDS), advance the Commission’s proposal on updating the general pharmaceutical legislation, promote the implementation of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and advance efforts to renew the EU Global Health Strategy. The Presidency will also address the shortage of medicines and medical devices that may occur in the case of unforeseen events such as COVID-19 as well as consolidate efforts to reduce antimicrobial resistance at EU level and globally.

We welcome the Swedish Presidency’s programme for the next six months that reflects some of the pressing challenges health systems and people face today. We also commend the Presidency’s focus on the EHDS to enable effective cross-border data sharing to facilitate care delivery and strengthen research, innovation and policymaking as well as work in the framework of the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe to ensure uninterrupted access to high-quality affordable medicines and medical devices in events of health crises and beyond.

There is an urgent need to learn lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and build up the resilience of our healthcare systems in the face of future health emergencies. Shoring up the resilience of the health systems so that they are equipped to mitigate public health challenges and absorb shocks linked to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and humanitarian emergencies should be a key priority area for European policy makers. A prerequisite to building up the resilience of our health systems lies in addressing the current, leading cause of disability and deaths in Europe – diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs).  

Although COVID-19 has impacted everyone, people living with NCDs such as diabetes have paid and continue to pay a heavier toll. According the two June publications from the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology Journal (here and here), during the COVID-19 pandemic, beyond excess risk of hospital admission, increased disease severity, and increased mortality, people with diabetes suffered from increased non-COVID-related mortality due to pandemic-related reductions in care. Diabetes was also found to be the number one condition to be affected by the reduction in healthcare resources.

Overall, addressing the diabetes epidemic during both crises and non-crises times requires systemic and innovative changes to turn the tide – changes in care delivery approaches but also policy changes that will promote enabling and equitable environments for health and ensure fairer and more affordable access to medicines, technologies, e-health and education.

Recent initiatives such as Healthier Together – EU NCD initiative show the European Commission (EC) commitment to address some of the above-mentioned challenges and support Member States (MS) in reducing the burden of diabetes and other NCDs. The new European Parliament diabetes resolution adopted in November 2022 also shows great ambition and political will for the EU and MS to do more to act on diabetes and improve people’s quality of life.

We call on the Swedish Presidency to take into account the recent policy developments in the area of health and work closely with the EC, MS and the diabetes community to provide strong, strategic leadership to achieve real impact on diabetes and other NCDs and ensure more resilient health systems fit to deal with the current and future health challenges.