April 23. 2024. 7:02

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From Luxembourg to Poland: an unequal landscape in contraception

Editorial word: From Luxembourg to Poland: an unequal landscape in contraception

When talking about health, we often mention inequalities in Europe. The word usually appears when we’re addressing the workforce crisis, medicine shortages, and mental health strategies.

Most recently, the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF) showed that these inequalities are also present in contraception access and policies.

In Luxembourg, the EU’s wealthiest country, for example, long-term contraception, such as implants, is included in coverage schemes for adults within national health systems and you can find free emergency contraception in the pharmacy.

These two factors, together with “excellent government-supported websites” and accessible and free consultations situate the country at the top of the Contraception Policy Atlas 2024, published by EPF.

The atlas, which annually scores 47 countries’ access to contraception in terms of online information (both governmental and non-governmental), funding, and counselling, once more shows an uneven situation across Europe.

Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, all received scores higher than 90% while Poland, Hungary, and Armenia did not surpass 40%.

However, not everything is as bad as it seems and the 2024 edition also highlights changes from previous editions and ongoing efforts to improve the situation.

In Ireland, the coverage of contraception coverage for young people has increased up to 31 years of age and in Moldova, implants became available on the national level and will be available for national groups in 2024. In Poland, there is currently a draft bill pending to revoke the need for prescriptions for emergency contraception.

“We have standardised so many issues in the EU. We have one standard on bananas, we have one standard on carrots, and we have one standard on the charger. But we still don’t have one for women’s rights”, said Polish MEP Robert Biedrón, chair of the women’s rights committee in the European Parliament referring to the atlas.

“And it’s political, of course, it’s political,” he added.

EU news

    • Two-week pandemic treaty negotiating session underway.
    • Breaking silos between climate and health requires more than an event.
    • A rise in measles cases across the EU/EEA.
    • EU Disability Card goes some way to improving accessibility across the bloc.
  • Two-week pandemic treaty negotiating session underway. The World Health Assembly in May, which also marks the deadline for an agreement on a pandemic treaty, is fast approaching. Starting on Monday (19 February), the eighth meeting of the WHO Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) commenced a two-week negotiating session to move forward despite the continued major differences in opinion between particularly high- and low-income countries. While the opening session can be found and watched here, the talks carry on behind closed doors and untransparent. Nevertheless, for an overview of the negotiations’ starting point, Health Policy Watch got hold of the latest pandemic treaty draft. For a broader overview of the process and what is at stake, catch up here or here.
  • Breaking silos between climate and health requires action. At the EU level, the term “One Health” as a way of thinking about integrated approaches considering human, animal and environmental health has become increasingly popular following the COVID-19 pandemic. Breaking down silos between climate and health was similarly discussed throughout the European Commission’s research-focused event on Monday and Tuesday (19-20 February). While the climate crisis’ impact on human health, as well as the need for health systems to cut down emissions are well-known and rising, a very direct call to action came from WHO chief scientist Jeremy Farrar, who emphasised that the most crucial thing will be what happens after the event: “We all in this room have agency and power. The question is, in the next 12 months, how will we use that for the maximum benefit of the maximum number of people to address the greatest challenge of the 21st century?” Find the details of the event here.
  • A rise in measles cases across the EU/EEA. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), “sub-optimal vaccination coverage” against measles will result in a continued rise of the virus. ECDC numbers show that there has been a rise in measles cases since the beginning of the year and at least seven deaths across two countries have been reported. Measles are a threat to people of all ages, however particularly children below five are at increased risk of severe complications. “The increase in cases of measles, a highly contagious, but vaccine-preventable disease, is a stark reminder that all member states should maximise efforts to achieve and maintain high vaccination coverage for all vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccines are a safe and effective way to reduce the health burden of infectious diseases and avoid unnecessary loss of life,” said ECDC director Andrea Ammon. EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides called the rise “worrying” and urged EU citizens to make sure they are vaccinated. Read more here.
  • EU Disability Card goes some way to improving accessibility across the bloc. While broadly welcomed for harmonising accessibility measures across the bloc, the agreement on the EU’s first bloc-wide Disability Card seems to be only a first step in securing true freedom of movement within EU countries for people with disabilities. Around 87 million people in Europe live with some form of disability. As member states currently recognise these disabilities according to varied criteria, with corresponding national disability cards, thousands of people regularly encounter barriers when travelling or visiting another member state due to the lack of homogeneous recognition. In efforts to streamline the system, EU institutions agreed on 8 February on an EU-wide disability card that aims to facilitate access to the right to free movement for persons with disabilities. “It doesn’t only have a practical value, especially for people with invisible disabilities, […] but a symbolic one as the ‘European project’ of feeling part of the European Union,” Alejandro Moledo, deputy director and head of policy at the European Disability Forum (EDF), told Euractiv.
    Marta Iraola reported on this here.

News from the Capitals


Vast cancer care inequalities along patient pathways are highlighted in a new report from the Swedish Institute for Health Economics (IHE). IHE’s recent research shows divergence not only across the European Union but within each country. Read more.

Pharma package, Swedish MEPs split ahead of ENVI vote. Swedish Members of the European Parliament welcome updated EU pharmaceutical legislation but remain divided on diverse amendments, including on how to handle incentives for developing new antibiotics, though common ground for the Swedes exists on boosting the fight against antimicrobial resistance. Read more.


No new cancer plan for Belgium, Vandenbroucke rejects calls for strategy change.
Belgium aims to double its cancer survival rate by 2040 relying on the nation’s current cancer plan, despite calls from pharmaceutical firms for a new strategy. Belgian Health Minister Vandenbroucke said that implementing the existing strategy is preferable to drafting a new national plan. Read more.


Open the bottlenecks, centralise ATMP coordination, say Dutch researchers.
The Dutch advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) field is highly fragmented and needs central coordination to unblock bottlenecks. Dutch researchers made the recommendations in a recent report offering insight gaining an efficient overview of ATMP regulations. Read more.


Athens launches first Greek language rare diseases list.
Athens has launched its own Rare Disease list in Greek. Until now, no detailed classification existed for new rare diseases in the Greek language. The list is an analytical archive of every rare disease and its sub-categories, including genetic mutations. Read more.


Irish hospital researchers discover new AMR bacteria.
Researchers at Ireland’s University of Limerick have discovered a new species of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. The discovery was made at UL’s School of Medicine, where scientists identified a novel antibiotic-resistant bacterial species capable of colonising patients in a hospital setting. Read more.


Malnutrition risk for two thirds of Slovak hospital patients.
Malnutrition impacts almost two-thirds of Slovak patients in hospital care, according to new research. The survey found that despite the extra costs malnutrition creates for the healthcare system, interventions remain minimal. Read more.


Bulgaria’s parallel reality. Authorities accused of aggravating medicines shortages.
The Bulgarian authorities are accused of aggravating shortages of scarce medicines by imposing administrative obstacles to parallel trade, the Bulgarian Association for the Development of Parallel Trade in Medicines (BADPTM) has claimed. Read more.

Read more with Euractiv

New Swedish rare diseases strategy commissioned

New Swedish rare diseases strategy commissioned

Sweden is preparing a national strategy to improve healthcare for people with a rare disease. The long-called-for plan will tackle major care inequalities amongst the estimated half a million people in Sweden living with a rare disease.