For many years, I have been active in trying to raise greater awareness about osteoporosis amongst policymakers at EU-level. It was therefore fantastic to be asked to speak on this topic today at a special press conference looking at Vitamin D deficiency.
Speaking alongside me were several experts in the field: Judy Stenmark, CEO of the International Osteoporoses Foundation; Prof Heike Bischoff-Ferrari from the University of Zϋrich; Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer from DSM; and Prof Theodor Sproll from the Duale Hochschule Baden-Wϋttemberg.
During my presentation, I highlighted several key difficulties with raising awareness of osteoporosis prevention. It is widely acknowledged that the most serious obstacle to treatment of osteoporosis is a lack of awareness of the disease at the political level. Yet osteoporosis still does not attract the same degree of interest amongst policy-makers as other diseases.
One problem is that too few epidemiological studies on osteoporosis are being carried out, so governments don’t have the evidence they need to justify policy changes. What’s more, studies on osteoporosis don’t generally qualify for special government research funds or grants. This has meant that private organisations are being left to fill the gaps in research.
Activities in the field of osteoporosis at EU-level in recent years demonstrate just what can be done when there is sufficient momentum.
One of the big successes was the setting up, in 2001, of the European Parliament Osteoporosis Interest Group, which I co-chair with Anja Weisgerber MEP. Its aim is to help stimulate important policy developments at national and EU level by increasing awareness about osteoporosis, sponsoring policy initiatives, and supporting relevant legislation. Several of my Labour colleagues, including Richard Howitt MEP and Derek Vaughan MEP, are also members.
Many Member States have already started working to increase awareness of osteoporosis at the political level, which indicates that the work of the Interest Group and is paying off. Policymakers must do all they can to prioritise osteoporosis. If they do, I am convinced we will see more efficient responses emerge at national level to tackling the disease.