Late last week wrapped up the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG), which welcomed ministers, NGOs, patients, professors and healthcare professionals to explore solutions to Europe’s changing demographic landscape. Demographics and Diversity in Europe – New Solutions for Health was the theme of the 19th edition of the EHFG, and the programme created a unique opportunity for people from across the continent and beyond to discuss the European-wide phenomena of ageing populations and increased migration. In over 15 sessions and interactive workshops, covering 35 hours of debate by over 500 participants, the following themes took centre-stage.
The underlying sentiment conveyed in the plenary sessions was that Europe is at a time of change and of uncertainty. The way forward needs to be found in solutions that fully integrate health considerations into all areas of policy making, from employment and social services to cities and the refugee camps.
Diverse Europe. Today, 1 in 7 people is a migrant. Rather than a burden upon health systems, participants highlighted the opportunities that arise from increased diversity, and the potential to counteract many of the fears associated with ageing populations in Europe, as migrants tend to be young, healthy and at working age.
However, speakers including representatives from the World Health Organization Regional Office in Europe stressed that rebuilding trust in Europe and its political systems is of critical importance. Globalisation and increased diversity have enriched Europe, but people have been left behind. In the face of rising populist movements, and the fall-out from Brexit, improved social services and greater societal equity are necessary.
Healthy Europe. People may be living longer, but this does not always mean they are healthy. To combat the growing prevalence of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease in older people, as well as mental conditions, many EHFG participants agreed on the need for more holistic and calculated approaches to health care, better linked with social and welfare needs. Pointing at bringing a wide range of stakeholders (from politicians to patients, as well as mayors and even historians) to the table to set in place policies and roll out programmes.
Most EHFG participants rejected a doom-and-gloom vision of ageing populations in Europe. Rather, speakers from the European Commission and special guest Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, highlighted the opportunities arising from greying baby-boomers in Europe. The “silver economy” is the third largest economy in the world, and has the potential to drive growth and employment in the region. Healthcare, a service most used by the elderly, already accounts for nearly 10% of the European workforce, from highly skilled workers to manual labour.
Smart Europe. Older people means social needs will not be getting smaller, but they can get smarter. Workshops and panel discussions debated the best means to provide access to healthcare in a sustainable and affordable manner. Many highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships, new technologies and more innovative and effective polices to better meet social needs.