The beginning of the year has been eventful in Brussels, and it was not just never-ending BREXIT saga that has stirred the passions of health advocates and civil society organisations in the EU capital. With the elections of European Parliament slowly approaching and the negotiations on the next EU long-term budget 2021-2027 in the process, numerous policy documents, ideas and initiatives, with potential to seriously affect TB policy at the EU and national levels, have been circulating around.
TB Europe Coalition, whose Board member, Marine Ejuryan is also a co-chair of the EU Civil Society Forum on HIV/AIDS, TB and viral hepatitis, has been actively involved in various advocacy initiatives amongst different civil society networks.
One of the key advocacy opportunities at the moment is an on-going discussion about the future of the EU Health Programme, the Health Strand within the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), from 2021 – 2027. Last year, EU CSF on HIV/AIDS, TB and viral hepatitis actively engaged with Members of European Parliament to amend the initial Commission’s proposal to cut future health funding by 8% compared to the 2014-2020 period. All the advocacy efforts were fruitful, and the European Parliament not only suggested to increase the initial proposal for Health Strand from EUR 413 000 000 to EUR 473 000 000 but also called for more ambitious political leadership for a sustainable regional response to the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB and hepatitis in Europe. Nevertheless, the process is still ongoing as the three EU institutions – the European Commission, Parliament and the Council/EU Member States – negotiate to find a common position on the future EU Health Programme. Thus, TB Europe Coalition, under an umbrella of the EU Civil Society Forum on HIV/AIDS, TB and viral hepatitis, is actively advocating Member States to take into account the suggestions by the Members of European Parliament right this moment.
Although it all seems like a rather technical and an issue “removed” from the daily experiences of our members, who are involved in TB service delivery or advocacy at national level, the budget agreed for the next Health Programme will have significant impact on the available budget for any EU led activity, project and partnership at regional and national levels, including for TB projects in the EU Member States and in neighbouring countries.
In addition to the on-going advocacy vis-à-vis the next EU health Programme, TBEC members are actively monitoring the reaction to the European Commission’s Reflection Paper: Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030, which after a closer look, does not seem to be reflective at all. The Commission has noted that “deaths in the EU due to HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis fell rather steadily between 2002 and 2015”, which although factually true, does not reflect the truth particularly due to unequal access to health services, persisting stigma and discrimination in health care settings, and punitive laws that dissuade various key populations, from unregistered migrants to sex workers and men having sex with men to access health care system.
Thus, although BREXIT seems to be the only thing capturing the imagination of the EU citizens at the moment, EU health policy is not at a standstill. Thus, the role of civil society and its continuous and relentless focus on understanding and influencing the “nitty-gritty” of EU internal policy-making is more important than ever.
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