Challenges & opportunities of demographic change – Gastein highlights

Today’s blog comes from Elisa Irlandese, Junior Associate, European Public Affairs at Lilly.

Another year of lively and through-provoking discussions at the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), the leading forum to exchange opinions about a broad spectrum of European health priorities. This year the conference theme touched upon the lives of each and every one of us: Demographics and Diversity – new solutions for health.

Europe’s population is getting older. According to EHFG, life expectancy is set to increase by about 6 years for both women and men by 2060. Undoubtedly, that’s good news. But demographic change also comes with consequences.

There are social implications: it is predicted that the ratio of workers to pensioners will move from 4 workers to 1 pensioner today to 2 to 1 by 2060. There are also public health implications: we may be living longer, but that does not necessarily mean we have more years of healthy life. Much of the conference was focused on how best to provide quality health services for all, meeting the growing demand arising from demographic change. 

Participants argued that European policymakers need to be better at promoting health in all policies, bringing on board leaders across sectors and placing more emphasis on prevention to combat chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes. As stated by Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis, “The definition of health means social, mental, physical well-being – it’s not about sick people.”

Closely linked with the subject of demographic change, Alzheimer’s disease received recognition as a critical public health concern at this year’s EHFG. Sessions covered the disease from many angles, including innovation in Alzheimer’s care, healthy literacy, improved patient engagement in Alzheimer’s policies, the importance of designing dementia-friendly environments and communities and reducing the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s to improve early detection and diagnosis of the disease.

Better patient engagement was a recurring theme beyond Alzheimer’s at EHFG. Outlined at a session on Health Technology Assessment (HTA), Secretary General of the European Patients’ Forum Nicola Bedlington explained their work to harness the patient perspective in HTA. This entails training academies so that patients are better equipped to engage in health policy, and involving patients more early on in drug development – a priority for us too here at Lilly. 

We have a lot left to do when it comes to adequately meeting the public health demands of changing demographics in Europe. However, the policy discussions, exchange of best-practices and enthusiasm I saw at EHFG indicate we are up to the challenge.

Until next time!