"Belgian health policy costs lives"

Prof Peter Piot, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a prominent Flemish scientist, has hit out at the health policies of the Belgian government and called for a rethink.

Prof Piot, who discovered Ebola and earlier served as the head of UNAIDS, labels the decision of the Belgian health minister not to limit the sale of alcohol and tobacco to minors "as it would cost jobs" as "incomprehensible". The Belgian was speaking in the weekly Knack. He accused the Belgian health minister of pursuing policies that cost human lives rather than jobs.

It's not only the situation in Belgium that is giving cause for concern. Mr Piot suggests that the health systems of Britain, the US and even Switzerland are on course for a disaster scenario. The population is aging and people are coming down with more and more chronic complaints including diabetes, dementia and obesity. Many cancers can easily be cured but the treatment proves to be too expensive.

"The situation seems to be becoming untenable. If we carry on like this health care will soon become unaffordable. We have to realise that not everything will be possible in the future: a hip replacement for a 90-year-old, lung operations for smokers. Obese people should lose weight before they can receive treatment. At some point we will have to completely rethink our health care. This won't be popular and will create political difficulties, but it's necessary. Otherwise we are heading straight for disaster."

Prof Piot says that health rationing is already taking place, but "Belgian style" i.e. without good agreements. The Ebola expert condemned decisions taken during Belgium's recent spending review saying savings were chiefly made to health care.

Prof Piot notes that in order to address rising costs more should be done to promote prevention. With regard to alcohol sales he backs price rises rather than a total ban.

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