April 28, 2019
As a Hungarian European citizen, this time is the fourth time I am voting for Europe. The difference is that this time the first time I have a very good cause to vote for and this cause is called: health. I will vote for health beacuse I am convinced that Europe has the power and the potential to improve people’s health in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.
It has never been more difficult to vote for Europe from a Hungarian perspective. This will be the second time for me when I will not vote from my home country but from Brussels. And even having less illusions than the previous three times, there is still a striking issue which can bring difference and added value to my country and to Europe. And this reason is: health.
My first euphoric European election in 2004
I have just graduated from the University of Szeged as a lawyer. It was an euphoric time not only because this was the year of joining the EU for Hungary but also I acquired the right to put ‘dr.’ to my name – a feudal tradition and privilige freshly graduated Hungarian lawyers still enjoy. And after a long party without sleeping a minute, I was directing myself to the ballot point in Szeged, my University city, together with my friends. My vote was motivated by my thesis which I have just finished about the European Convenant: does Europe need a European Constitution? At that time, I was full with hope and maybe with some European idealism, too
Health does matter for Hungary: the state of health in Hungary
For me, as a health advocate, public health is important and if I look at the health of Hungary, I can see a public health emergency. According to 2017 data of the recent State of health in Hungary report life expectancy at birth in Hungary was 75.7 years in 2015, up from 71.9 years in 2000, but still nearly five years below the EU average. The gap by gender and socioeconomic group is large: Hungarian men with the lowest level of education live on average nine years less than the most educated men. The Hungarian Roma population faces significant health challenges, too.
The poor results of the population health is fundamentally because of the commercial determinants of health. In 2014, more than one in four Hungarian adults smoked daily. Smoking among people with a low level of education is more than two times greater than among the most educated. Obesity increased, and more than one in five Hungarian adults were obese in 2014. Harmful alcohol consumption among adolescents is another important risk factor: 38% of Hungarian 15-year-olds have been drunk on several occasions in their life (compared with an EU average of 25%).
In order to cope with the public health challenges, the Hungarian healthcare system is under serious pressure which faces structural difficulties. Health spending in Hungary is well below the EU average and the gap widened over the past decade. In 2015, Hungary spent EUR 1 428 per capita (7.2% of GDP) on health care, about half the EU average of EUR 2 797 (9.9% of GDP). Hungary’s accession to the EU in 2004 also led to an increased mobility of Hungarian doctors, who have left in large numbers to work abroad. This mainly affected the public sector, resulting in a shortage of health professionals exacerbated by the growing private sector, which is attracting an increasing number of doctors and nurses.
On the road for health and Europe: my second vote in 2009
Five years later, I was already on my way to improve population health. After a European internship in Luxembourg at the European Court of Justice, I joined the Hungarian Ministry of Health and was preparing for the 2011 Hungarian EU presidency. Still, I had no doubts that I cast my vote for Europe.
What has Europe ever done for health?
Health protection and improvement is a great success story of the European Union. Life expectancy is rising across the EU. Accession to the Union is positively correlated with health gains and longer lives. Without EU level action and support of the Health Programme, EU citizens would be more at risk from health threats. European integration and collaboration has brought great benefits for our health and provides vital resources for our health services: free movement of health professionals, health technologies and patients. We are assured of our right to treatment in other member states, under common minimum safety and quality standards. Thanks to cross-border collaboration, highly specialised expertise will be shared across borders, thanks to the recent European Reference Networks for Highly Complex and Rare Diseases – an area not only where EU-wide strategies are effective, but also where the added value of EU action is striking.
The third time for Europe in Brussels: 2014
The third time I have already moved to Brussels due to family reasons. I was looking for a post-public administration career and I remained in the health field. I joined the largest public health NGO of Europe and had the privilege to work on population health, to promote the public interest. In 2014 when I casted my European vote, I was still at my early career stage and was about to start my European campaign for more European action for health.
What can Europe do for better health?
Unprecedented health and social challenges can only be tackled at a European level. There has never been a stronger case, or a more vital moment for Europe to work together to protect our health. Europe is facing important health threats which must become a top priority for the new Commission. We face common challenges from drug-resistant infections, spikes in chronic diseases, obesity, alcohol-related harm, infectious diseases, emerging technologies, rising prices of medicines, and inequities in access to healthcare, that can be tackled together far more effectively.
Vote in the EU elections – for health!
If you would like to improve people’s health, there is no question what is the simple single action you can do wherever you live: you can certainly take part in the European elections on 23-26 May. You have no excuse: this is an opportunity you only have once in every 5 years. This is why this time I’m voting and I will vote for health.Zoltán Massay-Kosubek