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May 03, 2018

Minister of State for Healthcare pens response to The Lancet following criticisms of Hungary's healthcare system

The minister highlights that since the prime minister returned to power in 2010, his government has introduced measures to curb the consumption of products that are detrimental to public health

Zoltán Ónodi-Szűcs, minister of state for Healthcare, has penned a response to The Lancet's recent editorial entitled “Orbán not delivering health for Hungary”.

The article claims that the third re-election of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his party offers a “preview” for western countries of impending negative health consequences. The editorial asserts that these are the kinds of consequences that ensue when governments “value populism and economic strength over the health of their people.”

The minister writes that he takes issue with this statement, asserting that many of the findings presented to support such an argument are ill-informed and do not acknowledge critical facts.

He highlights that since the prime minister returned to power in 2010, his government has introduced measures to curb the consumption of products that are detrimental to public health.

In 2011, the government imposed a Public Health Product tax on items with unhealthy levels of sugar and salt, which considerably reduced their overall consumption.

In 2013, the prime minister received a WHO award for his anti-smoking legislation, which among other restrictions, prohibited smoking in non-residential indoor spaces and tightened access to tobacco products by limiting their sale to only designated tobacco shops.

The government also invested in national health by increasing the physical education requirement in the national education curriculum and developing publicly accessible sport facilities throughout the country.

The minster adds that although the health data collected in 2015 shows some troubling numbers, we should remember that when it comes to public health policy, results appear only five to ten years later. Much of what we see in the 2015 numbers show us the results of the previous eight years of Socialist-led government, he said.

During part of that period, from 2006 to 2010, although the government was spending 7.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare, the result was a much lower level of funding. In 2016, with GDP more than 10 percent higher than in 2010, the government spent 7.6 percent of GDP on healthcare. Today, the government is spending 546 billion HUF more than in 2010, so that the percent of GDP is projected to reach 7.9–8 percent in 2018, the minister points out.

The editorial also cites the number of new HIV cases in Hungary as 2.7 per 100 000 people in 2015 (271 new cases in the year). However, the minister highlights that the editorial fails to compare these numbers with any other western countries. The USA—which spends the most on healthcare—has a rate of 12.5 new cases per 100 000 people and the UK has 9.3 new cases per 100 000 people. These omissions suggest that we're not dealing here with an analysis based on fact-based comparisons but something else, he said.

The minister said The Lancet editorial failed to mention any of these details alongside the quoted findings. If The Lancet is to argue that Hungary's government puts its alleged “populist” agenda ahead of the health of its people, then it must somehow account for the fact that in real terms, the Orbán government has spent 32 percent more on healthcare for its people today, than the previous government did, he concluded.

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