World Conference on Social Determinants of Health

Interview with Polish Minister of Health

Q: How will you try to connect the work on health inequalities to the most important strategic priority during Poland's EU presidency - the restarting of economic growth and the design of a new growth model for Europe?

There can be no sustainable economic growth without systematic improvements in health - which can be achieved through addressing the causes of premature mortality and through increasing healthy life expectancy. For example, a large proportion of people in Poland in their 50s and 60s are unable to work due to health conditions brought on by unhealthy lifestyles. In order to increase the economic performance of many EU countries, the prolongation of healthy life expectancy is one of the crucial challenges we face.

The European Union includes countries with some of the highest life expectancies and lowest premature mortalities in the world. Many health problems, especially in public health, have been effectively and successfully solved. More and more is done in order to promote healthy and active ageing. Combining efforts to achieve this goal is particularly important during the current time of economic upheaval, especially in order to protect the least privileged.

Finland is a good example of a country that has been able to significantly improve its health indicators in a relatively short amount of time. A few decades ago, Finland lagged behind most EU Member States but by the first decade of the 21st century, the country became one of Europe's leaders in terms of health status and outcomes. During their presidency of the EU in 2006, the Government of Finland promoted a "health in all policies" approach, stressing the importance of involving all governmental departments in health policy to achieve the best health results for all. Many other EU countries have introduced this approach.

The European Union and its Member States already possess the capacities and knowledge to tackle health inequalities. A harmonious implementation of targeted health promotion programmes and the implementation of a "health in all policies approach" can be particularly important as part of a strategy to restart economic growth on both national and EU levels.

Q: Finally, let us ask you - what are your expectations of the World Conference on Social Determinants of Health?

The European Union is intensively preparing for the United Nations High-level Meeting on Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Control that is scheduled for September 2011. There we will present the EU point of view on the control of non-communicable chronic diseases.

I hope that the conference in Rio de Janeiro will be the next important global forum that will help to prepare an effective intervention aiming to decrease the differences in health access worldwide. I believe that the conference will be a good opportunity to learn about good practices, and to share experiences between countries about the strategies aiming to close health gaps. I also hope that there will be debate about the importance of addressing the social determinants in order to improve health globally.

Interview by Zsofia Szilagyi.