Council of Ministers adopts "Conclusions on public health strategies to combat neurodegenerative diseases"

On 17 December 2008, at the end of the French Presidency of the European Union, the Council of European Health Ministers gave a clear signal that policy-makers at the highest level were heeding the call that dementia is a major public health issue by adopting “Conclusions on public health strategies to combat neurodegenerative diseases associated with ageing and in particular Alzheimer’s disease” at the 2916th Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council meeting.

The Council identified their reasons for taking this step, including (a) a recognition of the challenges faced with a doubling ageing population, (b) the fact that increased longevity should be accompanied by a certain quality of life, and that (c) prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Alzheimer’s disease, rises with age.

Citing existing European tools and initiatives which draws attention to the Council were the principles of Chapter 1 (on dignity) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights that patients can grow old with dignity, the Commission’s White Paper “Together for Health: a Strategic Approach for the EU 2008-2013” in which the primary strategic objective is to promote good health throughout a person’s life cycle and the commitment made in 1996 by the European Parliament to support European action to combat Alzheimer’s disease. The Council also acknowledged the work already carried out to make Alzheimer’s disease a public health priority at EU level, and notes the work carried out by associations.

The Conclusions were not legally binding, but calls for action to be taken by Member States, the Commission as well as the Social Protection Committee. Both the Member States and the Commission have been called on to (1) recognise dementia as a priority for action (2) take account of the potential consequences of the increase of the diseases and (3) reflect together on existing quality criteria. Member States were asked to establish national strategies, improve the distribution of information, promote coordination and collaboration between all parties, evaluate administrative procedures and to improve the skills of professionals to ensure a high quality of care.

The Commission was asked to adopt an initiative which should have four mains themes: research, exchange of best practices on all aspects of the disease, the improvement of the quality of epidemiological information and the exchange of best practices on the issues of protection and patients’ rights. In addition, the Commission was called upon to take initiatives which develop methodologies and capabilities at EU level, to use existing Community programmes and activities including the ongoing work of the Commission on health care and long-term care and, lastly, to use the possible connections between actions developed on these diseases and those developed to address mental health issues in the ageing population.

The Council also asked the Social Protection Committee to continue to promote the sharing of experiences and the exchange of best practice in specified areas, as well as to continue its activities on quality in long-term care.