TALLINN - Sustainable development goals must include a political objective to reduce inequality both in relation to health and in society as a whole, reads the joint declaration of European health ministers, who participated in the sixth high-level meeting of the small countries titled "Equity and sustainable development -- keeping people at the center" in San Marino on Tuesday.
The Estonian Minister of Health and Labor Riina Sikkut, who is taking part in the meeting, said that health policy should not just aim to achieve the highest possible average life expectancy, but also reduce health-related inequality between various social groups.
"To ensure that people of different genders, levels of education, income and place of living have more equal opportunities to live a full and long life, the needs of different target groups and the extent to which they affect health must be taken into consideration when designing policies," Sikkut said. "People's health is notably affected by various social economic factors, such as education, income and social cohesion. Thus, joint efforts by representatives of many fields are required to support public health."
Sikkut pointed out that Estonia has made significant progress in providing all people with equal opportunities for help.
"There is a well functioning medical insurance system in Estonia and a large part of health services are accessible to the majority of the population without entailing any significant expenses. On the other hand, we must continue searching options for protecting more effectively the more vulnerable part of the population, whose expenses on healthcare are already high or whose access to health care is restricted," she said.
As a positive example, the minister pointed out the new supplementary system of benefits for medicinal products, which entered into force in 2018 and has helped reduce the expenses on prescription drugs for people with higher need for medication and has thus improved access to medicines.
Due to the supplementary benefits, over 134,000 people have paid much less for their medications, Sikkut said.
"The number of people, who paid over 300 euros in unavoidable own contribution for prescription drugs has dropped from 17,000 to around a hundred," she said.
The health policy leaders of small countries highlight in their joint declaration that in order to ensure sustainable development, policy making must focus on reducing inequality. To provide a secure environment that supports all people's health, the participants in the meetings call for improved cooperation across sectors on a national level as well as between local governments and communities and also between state authorities and non-governmental organizations and interest groups.
Sikkut is participating in the small countries' sixth high-level meeting "Equity and sustainable development -- keeping people at the center" in San Marino from March 31 to April 2.