World Conference on Social Determinants of Health

Interview with Polish Minister of Health

Q: What policy decisions do you think would be needed on the national and European Union levels to reduce existing inequalities in health?

At the first informal meeting of EU Ministers of Health on 5-6 July, I asked my colleagues to support the proposal of the Polish Government to undertake urgent remedial action to reduce the serious and persistent health gaps between EU Member States. During the discussions that followed, our proposal received unanimous acceptance from all participating countries. They also joined the call for ‘Solidarity for Health’ in the EU.

I was particularly pleased that countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland (where many young Poles take up seasonal jobs), as well as Norway, Finland, Sweden, Greece, Malta and others, pledged to support us in the preparation and implementation of such a programme. Many Ministers of Health indicated that the use of EU structural funds would be justified in the implementation of the programme to reduce health disparities in Europe. There was agreement that in order for economic growth to resume in the EU, improving health was just as important as the improvement of road infrastructure.

We also received a positive reaction from the European Commission (DG SANCO) and the WHO Regional Office for Europe. The Polish Government and these organizations now have the authorization of all EU Member States to prepare a comprehensive health inequality reduction programme. With the first decisions made, work in Poland has already started on this project. An important next step will be the working conference of EU Ministers of Health planned for 7-8 November in Poznań.

To summarize, the most important actions aimed at reducing health inequalities should be the following:

  • on the national level: the strengthening of national health programmes and strategic action plans on public health;
  • at the national and EU levels, the development of common, universal social awareness about the issues, and the introduction of obligatory health impact assessment of planned and adopted policies and regulations.

It is essential to support all actions that contribute to reducing social disparities and improving social equality. Currently we have at our disposal a series of already-proven indicators, such as mortality, life expectancy, healthy life years (HLY), and disability-adjusted life years (DALY). Additionally, new indicators should be developed to take into account the impact of social factors on health. Next, a standardized method should be created for the assessment of the current situation, as well as for data interpretation and comparison. Finally, joint actions should be taken to exchange experiences about closing the health gaps in specific countries and between societal groups, and also with regard to institutional solutions which contribute to improving the health of societies.