Interview with Sara Cerdas –

Interview with Sara Cerdas

Mag 31, 2022
Roma, 31 mag. – Hello and welcome to Askanews EU Verified Series

Following on from last year’s series, in which we interviewed members of the European Parliament on the ground-breaking Beating Cancer Plan, this year we want to focus on other ambitious plans of the European Union, such as EU4Health program.

In this second round of interviews, we will discuss the priorities of the European Parliament’s Environment and Health Committee in 2022, the lessons learned from the pandemic, the challenges facing Europe in the health sphere and the implementation of the Beating Cancer Plan.

I am Lorenzo Peiroleri, editor at Askanews and I have the great pleasure to host the first interview with our guest, Member of the European Socialist Party, Sara Cerdas.

Welcome Mrs Cerdas and thank you for joining us today.

Q. I would like to start the interview by recapping a little on the Beating Cancer Plan: you were Vice-Chair of the BECA Committee and a leading voice of the fight against cancer, are you satisfied with the Plan that was adopted in plenary last February?

A. The plan that was approved in plenary last February is quite an ambitious plan. It’s the Parliament’s position in regard to the beating cancer and all the four different pillars that we want to tackle: prevention early diagnosis, accessibility to treatment and quality of life for survivors, but also patients and families. This is very important. I wanted a bit more ambition, I must confess. I would like to see a Report that would have a strong support by what is the latest evidence-based science in this regard on unknown risk factors and non-risk factors. For cancer, we have that 40- 50% of deaths that could have been avoidable. But we also know that there’s 50% of risk factors for cancer that we still do not know.

Q. Do you believe that the Plan adequately tackles issues such as health inequalities and prevention?

A. Yes, to some extent. We know that inequalities in health rise in those populations that are more marginalized or in socially lower stretches of population. And these inequalities arrive and we need to see the whole population of course, but target specific interventions for specific population groups such as, for instance, youth and better regulation on advertisement, on nutrition advertisement such as people that suffer from other non-communicable diseases, how do we follow on them? And the biggest risk factors which are, for instance, alcohol, tobacco, poor nutrition, physical inactivity, environmental factors and all of this needed to be tackled. Of course, there’s a strong part in prevention, but there is a part that we need to go further beyond and keep advancing and working with academia hand in hand, which is what are the other 50% of factors that cause cancer? We’re talking about the second leading cause of death in the EU at the current time. But with the demographic change, with people living longer, it can go into the first cause of death in the very near future, not forgetting all other NCDs.

Q. What will be the key challenges for the implementation of the Plan and what should the priorities be among those that you just mentioned?

A. The challenges will be on how EU is organizing in regards to health policy. We have that protection of public health is a shared competence between Member States and the European Union and that is what we have been working on so intensively during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, provision of health care is a single competence by member states solely. But we must mix them both, because protection of public health goes far beyond just the provision of health care. Of course, we need to capacitate Member States to take their actions, of course, with infrastructure, with the equipping, their national health care. However, they seem fit to provide health care, accessibility and services to the population, however, in different fronts, such as cancer we can have a common framework. It’s this common framework in tangling with the 27 different national health care systems. That will be the biggest challenge. But there’s many great steps that have been made since 2019. First, with the Beating Cancer Plan we stayed a bit behind because of the pandemic. But then we realize health goes further beyond just health care. So, I’m quite optimistic on the implementation of the plan, even though the challenges are great. Among the priorities I will have to enumerate and being a medical doctor from public health that prevention should be our key priority. If we have that 40 to 50% of deaths could have been avoidable. We’re talking about a huge burden of disease that we could have lowered for our population. So, we need to tackle and have a stronger stance on the preventable risk factors. What I’m saying is not we are not going to forbid I’m not a mother of anyone, but it’s of the utmost importance that our citizens are equipped with the information. So, our one of our biggest priorities should be increased health literacy for citizens. So, they are provided with the information and they can make the choice, they see as fit. If they still want to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, they can of course, but they are equipped with the information to take a responsible action and not be blindsided by the lack of evidence that the risk factor can have for the development of cancer.


Q. On the issue of tobacco, you mentioned the importance of finding a consensus solution to enable consumers to make healthier choices. Do you think such a consensus was found?

A. No. Well, that’s a tricky question, I must confess, because there’s already some consensus. I think there’s a general widespread knowledge that tobacco smoking is harmful for your health. This is what we also science has been establishing. We have that for other risk factors on the consensus, on how to approach these risk factors. There’s none because there’s not one main consensus that I could point. There’s many small consensus, but not a common framework. I know that has been working for years and years. But let’s not forget that this is a situation or an act that many citizens do, which is smoking cigarettes and smoking tobacco products. Hence, it’s quite hard to have a straightforward single approach. I think the approach should be tailored, tailor made concerning the different population groups that we are speaking about. For instance, in my own country in Portugal, we have seen a rise of female, young, females smoking tobacco. So, you cannot tackle that population group the same way you would tackle elderly, male, 55 plus tobacco consumers. The message needs to be different. So, I’m more of the tailored suited approach.

Q. Very interesting. Changing argument and going back to the pandemic, the European Union took a very proactive position on Covid-19, leading a very successful vaccine rollout. But there are still some member states that have an important portion of the population unvaccinated as a member of the Special Committee on COVID 19. What are plans and recommendations in this regard?

A. At some point during the pandemic, we had the difference between the lowest coverage vaccination rates in the EU member state and the highest where a difference of almost 60%, six zero. So it was 23 versus 90 plus percent. That’s very worrying because that means you have a population of 450 million, but somehow the message is not reaching everyone in an omogenius way, which is what you want to happen during a pandemic, when we have the only tool available which is safe and efficient, not going into people’s arms. However, it’s important to see the problem a bit before what happened. And here I would like to highlight the importance of health communication and giving the stage to scientists. Because this was a once in a lifetime, almost groundbreaking discovery, which was a safe and effective vaccine against a pandemic that had a great magnitude in regards of its consequences, not only in health, but also socio economically and on other streams of society. And this had happened during one year. So, we managed to accelerate all the process except the ones that went on the safety measures. So, we never overstepped safety measures on the development of the vaccine. Somehow that message was lost. So this went and was one of the messages that was carried on by anti-vaxxers that the vaccine was not safe. Also, the transparency of the contrast did not help because of course it was a matter of giving leverage in the negotiations by the Commission, which was negotiating by 27. However, that’s hard to understand for the general citizen: we already paid for the development of vaccines, now we’re paying to buy the vaccines that were produced with our money. And then we are also not sharing enough with the rest of the globe. So, this all created some kind of mistrust in the whole process, and I think that was more accentuated in some member states than others.

Q. What do you believe have been the key lessons learned from the pandemic?

A. There are many key lessons learned during the pandemic, but I think the main lesson that it cannot be overlooked, even though it’s already going into second and third priority in the news cycles and maybe forgotten, is the role that health, not health care, health and public health has for the societies. If health fails, everything else fails. So, I think this is the key role because when you have interventions in public health, they take a long time: ten, twenty, thirty years for you to see an outcome. So, it’s not it’s not attractive to someone that is in office for four or five years because the results are something we’re implementing now will only come when another person is in our office, collecting the rewards. However, there’s also this study that states that for each year that we invest in long term public health interventions, we received €14 in return, 14-fold. So that’s quite incredible.

Q. Speaking more generally, Europe is still facing many challenges in the health sphere like the non-communicable diseases that you mentioned before or the so called eradicated diseases that are coming back due to lack of vaccination or misinformation? And what are the most pressing matters the European Union must attend to?

A. I would have to highlight one which deals with health in our policies on health approach. Neglected tropical diseases (let’s state) and non-communicable diseases, which is antimicrobial resistance. In the last century, in the 20th century, there has been three public health interventions that increased our life expectancies to the numbers that we have at the moment. Before, it was a few decades lower our life expectancy. That was accessibility to water and sewage systems, vaccination and antibiotics. So we need to work very hard to make antimicrobial resistance, not future pandemic, which kind of already is out there. And we know the risks of that because to develop new antibiotics is quite a (difficult) process. It takes a lot of funding. And then just a few weeks pass and then there’s a mutation. So it’s not very cost effective for whoever is developing, however, is very much cost effective for the whole world population.

Q. One last question. Are you in favor of a specific Health Committee in the European Parliament, also related to what you just said? Or do you have a different idea on how the work of the BECA Committee can continue in the European Parliament?

A. Yeah, I believe that there is the ENVI Committee, the biggest committee here in the European Parliament, that tackles the two of the three main crises we’re going through, which is the pandemic, climate change, and the war more indirectly. I would say that it’s now time, after the work of BECA and let’s see what work is developing in the COVID committee to reflect on the need of standalone legislative health committee in the Parliament and because there’s some talk, should it be a subcommittee of ENVI Committee? If there is a Health Committee, it should have legislative powers and not just the subcommittee without legislative powers. But I think it’s important to assess the work that has been done in Beca, the work that is going to be done in Covid, the work that is being developed in Envi and then assess for the next legislature the possibility to have a standalone legislative Health Committee.

Thank you Mrs Cerdas for your thoughts and time today. I wish you all the best in your important work going forward. Thank you also to our viewers and see you on our next interview of Askanews EU Verified Series.


Thank you, Lorenzo. Have a great day. Bye.