What COVID-19 taught Europe on how to beat cancer

EU can beat cancer

As of today, there have been roughly 1.4 million deaths across Europe due to Coronavirus, since the first recorded European death in France on 15 February 2020. Cancer causes 1.3 million deaths annually in Europe, of which 6000 are children. In addition, 2.7 million lives are turned upside down every year after the most dreaded diagnosis, of which 35,000 are children and adolescents. COVID-19 and cancer do not only share this dreadful portrait. Likewise, both diseases can affect anyone, regardless of their  social status or where they live. Coronavirus and cancer are not first and second-class diseases in Europe; they go hand in hand.

In September 2020, the European Parliament set up a special Committee to explore what Europe can do to beat cancer. The work done over the past 21 months has served to identify how, by pooling efforts at a European level, this target could be achievable. As EU lawmakers, we have drafted what should be the way to go to mark the difference.

Imagine what we could do if we pool all this knowledge and expertise together.

The Coronavirus pandemic has already shown the advantages of working together on health matters, as well as the difficulties, bottlenecks and obstacles met. In the fight against COVID-19, we had to start from scratch. But EU health systems already have much more knowledge and experience in fighting cancer. Imagine what we could do if we pool all this knowledge and expertise together. The lessons learned from COVID-19 show what Europe could do to beat cancer.

Cancer treatments and medicine are very expensive, even more when it is for very rare types of cancer. As was done for COVID-19 vaccines, the European Commission should promote a European joint procurement system that makes these treatments more affordable for both patients and our healthcare systems. Europe will be promoting more equal access to medicines and needs to incentivise breakthrough innovations, as was done with the COVID-19 vaccines.

The EU can also make the difference on prevention, early detection and treatment, supporting research with structural funding from the €95.5 billion from Horizon Europe. The EU can also slam the barriers to data for research that are now slowing down treatment solutions for rare cancers, many of which affect children. A ‘Big EU data bill’ could help save children’s lives by incentivising researchers and pharmaceutical companies to invest in child-specific drugs. To ensure tailor-made treatment is available to all patients, every Member State should have at least one specialised centre for children and young adolescents suffering from cancer.

The experience with COVID-19 has showed in addition that treatment cooperation across borders can make the difference in saving lives. It must become easier for cancer patients to seek treatment in another EU country or for healthcare systems to transfer patients to a hospital where the best treatments can be found. There must be a single set of authorisation and reimbursement rules across EU Member States. Europe should also provide a platform for the exchange of best practices in palliative care and support research in palliative care. All patients deserve the right to be forgotten, regardless of the Member State they live in. No-one in the EU should be discriminated solely based on their past as a cancer patient. The lives of cancer patients and support for their carers need our best common effort.

These are only some of the examples in which Europe can make a difference. The European Parliament has worked on ways to help cancer patients, no matter in which of the 27 Member States they live. Currently, there are first and second-class citizens, because in Eastern Europe, patients have a 30 percent less chance of recovering compared to patients in Western Europe. As EU lawmakers, we want to make sure the fight against cancer doesn’t take social status or borders into account.

Europe can pool efforts, knowledge and money. Such resources and brainpower require the political will of 27 Heads of State and Government now. As the Parliament did, the leaders must agree that Europe can beat cancer together rather than fighting alone. The European Parliament would like to think that the 27 Health Ministers will not bury their heads in the sand, and rather face the task with the political willpower that matches the resolve cancer patients across Europe display on a daily basis.

Note to editors

The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 176 Members from all EU Member States

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