An Appeal on Behalf of Children and Adolescents in Europe UNEPSA 2006
The presidents of the European National Societies of Paediatrics, meeting in Rome for the General Assembly of the Union of National European Paediatric Societies and Associations (UNEPSA), feeling responsibility for providing the healthy development of the present child and adolescent population, alert governments and public opinion to the need for urgent new interventions and initiatives to promote the health of children and adolescents in Europe.
The extraordinary scientific, medical and social progress as well as the advances in learning achieved in the last few decades have led to vast improvements in survival rates, in the prevention, diagnosis and cure of diseases, and in the services provided for people during their individual development from birth to adolescence. The European paediatric community has made and continues to make a vital contribution to this new scenario. However, intolerable differences as regards infant morbidity and mortality, standard of healthcare and quality of life still persist both between and within European countries.
Moreover, this scenario, in part produced by progress itself and in part by a dramatic acceleration in the rate of changes, presents formidable challenges: reduced birth rates and population ageing; the need for integration between different cultures and ethnic backgrounds; colossal changes in the lifestyles of children and adolescents resulting from globalisation and communication technologies; and the growing gap between health needs and resources. Child labour, child physical and sexual abuse and child neglect, namely, the failure to provide the age-appropriate basic needs for the development of physical, emotional and intellectual capacities, are dramatically present also in Europe.
Consequently, there is a need for a new, extraordinary commitment to improve the medical, social and psychological care of infants, children and adolescents in Europe. A major effort is required to know more, and by knowing more, to act appropriately. There is an urgent need to promote and to invest more in scientific research, in paediatric training and in enhanced initiatives aimed at improving health conditions for infants and adolescents, in both EU and Non-EU Countries.
Fortunately, there are not only new challenges but also new opportunities. The new communication technologies offer tremendous opportunities, unimaginable until recently, provided their exploitation is accompanied by sound decisions and actions. Again fortunately, in recognition of the European situation, the WHO has developed a European Strategy for Child and Adolescent Health and Development as well as a Children Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE), which were approved by European Member States. Reliable, relevant data about the population targeted for intervention is a prerequisite to establishing whether an intervention should be made and in evaluating its effectiveness. The epidemiological pattern, the political willingness to act, the capacity of the health system to take part and the preferences of the community should be assessed at national, regional and/or local level.
For such studies and interventions, implementation of special task forces is called for. European paediatricians are committed to collaborate in these initiatives. They are aware of their role in prevention and treatment programmes including their role in determining and modulating healthcare costs.
Given these opportunities to improve child and adolescent health, we call upon governments to take prompt, appropriate action as regards their research, educational and healthcare policies.
Investing in children’s health and development is a key to a population’s future health.
A community that looks to its future should first and foremost consider its young people, and should do so by promoting scientific research that concerns its youth, ensuring their safety and wellbeing, and meeting their educational needs. Not to do so is suicidal for the future of society. Hopefully, each person, within his/her political, decisional and operational responsibilities understands this priority and will act accordingly.
September 28, 2006