Luisa Avedano, CEO of the European Federation of Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis Associations (EFCCA), shared thoughts about the way chronic diseases are tackled at the EU level. Despite extensive research there is currently no known cause or cure for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) and prevention is not an appropriate answer, she says.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis or IBD are chronic inflammatory, non-infectious conditions involving the digestive system. In most cases the illness can be kept under control with medication, but there is no known cure or cause to explain it. The majority of current interventions focus on “major non-communicable diseases” – cancer, cardio-vascular and respiratory diseases and diabetes – as they are combined the largest cause of death (“silent killers”) in Europe.
Some space is given to other diseases like mental illness and the vast galaxy of other diseases whose impact, in terms of people living with them, is still considered less urgent and less visible. The issue of prevention became integral to the European Commission’s approach to chronic diseases. It is indeed one of the best instruments to improve quality of life and fight against some of the most common non-communicable diseases.
However, there is a whole set of chronic diseases for which causes and cures are unknown and where by definition, anticipation is not possible. This is the case for a long list such as rare diseases, the mental health, the Inflammatory Bowel diseases and the whole family of immune-modulated diseases (psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis).
The EU should approach these particular cases from other perspectives to ensure we are really tackling these pathologies which affect seriously millions of Europeans. Research and policy imperatives could for instance identify disease causes, support patients by making drugs affordable and available, and enforce anti-discrimination policies.
In a way, this can be seen as a form of prevention. Identifying causes means to prevent the growth and impact of such illnesses and may lead to finding a cure. In other words, this would make the whole health system more effective and lead to a better life for millions of people who are currently keep their condition under control with medication but who do not know if there is a cure to their disease.