Statsminister Helle Thorning-Schmidts tale ved åbning af European Diabetes Leadership Forum den 25. april 2012

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Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a real privilege to open the European Diabetes Leadership Forum in Copenhagen today.

Let me start with a warm thanks to the OECD and to the Danish Diabetes Association who are hosting this important event.

As a result of your hard work, we are gathered here today, more than 700 political and healthcare leaders.

And there is no doubt that the background for this Forum is absolutely critical.

One out of 12 adult Europeans has diabetes. And the share is growing.

One out of 10 Euros of our public health budgets is spent on diabetes. And the costs are rising.

Chronic diseases affect the lives of millions of men, women and children.

At its core, our challenge can be summarized as follows:

The development of our society relies on a healthy and able-bodied population. At the same time, the growth of chronic diseases is a product of the very development of our modern society.

Diabetes is a societal problem. And therefore we must face diabetes not individually, not alone, but as a society: Together. That is my message to you today.

I would like to share with you the Danish Government’s approach for combating chronic diseases like diabetes, both nationally and in the EU.

* * *

But before I turn to political strategy, let me take you back in time.

Back to the times of shabby shanties and stuffy slum. The times when plague, smallpox and tuberculosis swept through Europe.

These epidemics of infectious diseases were a product of society. Of poor sanitation. Of growing mobility. Of urbanization.

When society managed to address these challenges – through improved sanitation, better housing and cleaner water – the tide was turned.

And this brings me to our present-day Europe. Where most people have access to an abundance of food. And most of us have a comfortable couch in front of the TV.

We no longer die from poor living conditions. We die from good living conditions.

We live longer. Long enough to catch chronic diseases.

This is our progress. This is our paradox. This is what makes chronic diseases a major challenge of our time.

* * *

Globally, there is an increasing focus on tackling the challenge of chronic diseases.

Last autumn, the issue was on the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. It is crucial that we use the momentum created in New York to push the agenda forward.

During the current Danish EU Presidency, we have chosen “Management of Chronic Diseases” as one of the main priorities in the field of health.
Yesterday, the topic was discussed at the informal meeting of the EU’s Ministers for Health.

The Ministers discussed how we can give patients with chronic diseases more autonomy. And thus better quality of life. The purpose was to identify and share good practices among the EU countries.

This is why we work together in Europe. To inspire each other. To learn from each other. To put a fair pressure on one another. Together, we can make more progress in tackling our common challenge.

Let’s keep in mind that many chronic conditions are in fact preventable. And they can be treated effectively through determined action.

Thus, the approach to chronic diseases should have two equally important elements: Prevention and treatment.

* * *

The first element is prevention.

Let me again turn to history. When the mortality of infectious diseases dropped, the main cause was sanitary reforms.

This was early-day prevention.

Combating chronic diseases, we must again address the underlying risk factors:

Tobacco. Alcohol. Physical inactivity. Obesity.

These factors are what we call lifestyle problems.

But let us not be prejudiced. We must approach this constructively.

We must not add guilt to the worries of those who battle with a serious disease.

Lifestyle does not come out of nowhere. Your health is not just your individual responsibility. It is our responsibility as a society to design a framework for good health. Let’s not forget that good health starts far away from the hospital.

Is it possible to get around by bicycle instead of car? Is it possible to avoid second-hand smoke? Is healthy food cheaper than unhealthy food?

As a society we must create the right incentives. We must create the options to live a healthy life. And then, of course, it is up to each of us to make the right choices and to act accordingly.

In Denmark we have put a tax on fat food to encourage a healthy diet. And we have increased other taxes on unhealthy food products.

We should also focus on inequity in health. In Denmark a bus driver can expect to live four years less than a lawyer. That, in a nutshell, is why prevention is so important.

Prevention is also about solidarity with those who are at risk.

The potential is huge: Type 2 diabetes represents nine out of ten diabetics. And it can in many cases be prevented by a healthy diet and regular physical activity.

We must have the courage to influence our lifestyles. Prevention is our strongest tool.

* * *

But of course, we must also do our utmost to raise the life quality of those who already suffer from diabetes.

Treatment is the second component of the strategy.

About 90 years ago, insulin was first used successfully to treat a young man dying of diabetes.

Over subsequent decades, our ability to manage diabetes has further improved. People with diabetes can expect to live healthier and longer lives.


In Denmark, we have set aside a substantial sum to reinforce the treatment of patients with a chronic disease. The Danish Government’s initiatives include patient education and self-treatment for patients with chronic diseases.

This way we can give patients with a chronic disease a far better life. And at the same time ease the burden on our health care system. We can use our resources more efficiently. And that will benefit all patients.

We must care for the people who live with life-long diseases and the threat of long-term complications. We must do our utmost so they can live a normal everyday life.

* * *

To summarize, we must develop our strategy around these two components: Prevention and treatment.

And we must not hesitate. Diabetes is not only a growing problem in Europe and other prosperous parts of the world. People in poorer countries, who are getting our life style, are also getting our problems.

While I am speaking to you today, one hundred people all around the world will get diabetes.

In the privileged countries, we have an obligation to find solutions, not only for ourselves but for the world.

* * *

Let me conclude: Diabetes is a societal problem. A problem, which we must address together, all interested parties.

In the 19th century, the French chemist Louis Pasteuer discovered bacteria as the source of disease. This became the beginning of sanitary reforms.

In the 20th century, a diabetes patient was treated with insulin for the first time. This led to better life quality for millions of people.

Let us make the 21th century the century of health restructuring. The century where we combat chronic diseases. Through prevention. Through treatment.

I wish you all a good conference and two inspiring days in Copenhagen.
Thank you very much for your attention.

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