Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Numbers can be dead serious, literally. Each year in Europe, cancer kills around 1.3 million people, 6,000 of them children and adolescents. It is in fact the disease that is the main cause of death for children aged more than one year of age. Sadly and unjustifiably, considerable differences exist between Member States, especially when it comes to screening and survival rates. This is unacceptable. Every European, adult or child, is entitled to the same minimum level of protection and access to care.
Therefore, this week has been exceptionally important since it marks the European Parliament’s adoption of the special ‘’Beating Cancer Committee’’ (BECA) report, a response to the cancer plan presented by the European Commission in February 2021. The report runs to hundreds of pages and includes concrete recommendations to ensure the success of the future action plan that range from issues of prevention and screening to treatment and aftercare. After months of hard work, from the time the Renew Europe Group led by Véronique Trillet Lenoir, the French MEP and oncologist, set up the special Committee in September 2020, we have negotiated a report that tackles all aspects of the problem in this tireless fight that we believe now serves to strengthen the Commission’s proposal.
From the outset, we liberals promised, to step up the fight against cancer with an ambitious European plan covering all aspects of the disease, from improved prevention campaigns, screening and diagnosis to patient-centred care, aftercare and to secure the right to be forgotten. In particular, we have sought to tackle risk factors, improve healthcare and invest more in research. With the European cancer plan as an important pillar of a strong approach to health issues by the Union, we want to help Member States turn the tide against cancer.
This is specifically essential if we look at tackling paediatric cancers. Think about it! At this very moment, we leave distraught parents with critically ill children alone. They wander around Europe, without any help as they knock on doors in search of the appropriate treatment. Unfortunately, they are sent from pillar to post. Often without result and left behind with a feeling of vulnerability and disbelief. Not every child in Europe has an equal chance of survival or of access to the same treatment or quality of care. The reality is stark, even gruesome, since everything depends on where you live in Europe. Some children are confronted with a lack of paediatric medicines or medicines so expensive that the average citizen cannot afford to pay for them. This is not the Union we want to live in and that is why we have to make this Cancer plan work for children as well.
As Co-Chair of the Intergroup for Children’s Rights, I therefore advocated for stronger and clearer provisions on paediatric care, putting the best interests of the child to the fore. It is clear we must invest in innovation, research and affordable medicines specifically for children. Ambulatory care and treatment for children should also be encouraged, if the relevant rooms, environments and medical devices are to be available and designed to meet the needs of children.
Furthermore, it is high time that paediatric oncology is recognised as a specialist discipline and that access to these specialists is better facilitated. In this context, a user-friendly mobile (and offline) application in the EU that supports parents and children in cancer prevention, education and care would help by providing families in need with an overview of all possible treatments available throughout Europe. In this way, they can ascertain quickly the options available to them. It is clear that we need to work together to improve access to treatment and make cross-border care easier in Europe, including when it comes to clinical trials and research.
Finally, we should also think about all young Europeans, all the more so, now that we have launched into 2022, which has been officially designated the EU year of youth. Moreover, I am convinced that the right to be forgotten must be guaranteed, because it is essential to give young people equal access to credit despite their medical history. Their whole life is still in front of them and we should ensure that it is one of high quality, giving them all the opportunities and chances they deserve and are entitled to.
February 15th marked International Childhood Cancer Day, a day on which we collaborate to raise awareness about childhood cancer, and express our support for children and adolescents with cancer, for survivors of this disease, and for their families.
It is now up to us to send out a strong signal and make this fight a real priority. Let us put children at the heart of our European cancer policies!