Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson
Ávarp ráðherra á ESSOP ráðstefnu
9.okt. 2008 kl 9:00 á Grand hótel í Reykjavík
Honoured Conference Guests from far and near,
On behalf of the Government of Iceland, it is a pleasure for me to wish you all welcome to Iceland. I understand from the list of participants that you come from diverse places around the globe. This is an illustration of the importance of the issues you are about to address during this two-day conference, dedicated to the health of school-age children. Few tasks are more crucial for each society than how we take care of our children and families.
Primary health care services are one of the backbones of the Icelandic health care system. It is in the neighbourhood health centre that people have access to both curative and preventive services. Health centres are found all over the country and the services for children are free of charge. They are easily accessible and staffed with competent health professionals.
The essence of the current preventive child health services in Iceland was developed in the early 20th century when infant mortality and malnutrition were high on the agenda. Now, with infant mortality at less than 3 per 1000 live births, and a great majority of children attending day-care centres and compulsory schools, preventive child health services face new challenges.
In a recent survey of about 30.000 school age children 6-15 years of age, one fifth was identified to suffer from chronic illnesses. The most important problem areas were mental health and childhood obesity. If we are to be successful in curbing the prevalence of these diseases, preventive actions need to be implemented from an early age. The question is what actions should be taken and are known to be effective. The role of a group like yours and other experts to explore such issues is of crucial importance.
In response to the new health problem panorama and through governmental policy the work force within preventive child health services in Iceland has gradually become more multi-disciplinary. Today it includes, for example, nurses, medical practitioners, midwives, paediatricians, psychologists, and occupational therapists. They work both at the health centres and referral levels. And in the day-care centre, specially trained pre-school teachers work in increasing numbers, and collaboration with the health services is gradually being strengthened. This is important in our efforts to continuously improve our services for children to identify potential problems at an early age.
I think I can say that health promotion permeates all our services to children and families, and in the compulsory school setting it has been transformed to better suit current key health threats of children, including nutrition, mental health and life-style issues.
It is the policy of the Government to offer first class health services to the Icelandic people. I, as a minister, put great emphasis on preventive actions and health promotion and it is evidenced in a new Health Policy which is to be officially launched at the end of this month. The new Health Policy is the result of collaborative efforts of professionals and community groups that all have contributed in different ways. I am proud to say that this was one of the first projects that I started as a Minister of Health last year.
Firstly, the new Health Policy emphasizes health promotion for children with the aim to support healthy environment for them to grow in and develop. This includes, for example, each school setting should elaborate and implement their own health policy and improve collaboration with the health services.
Secondly, the new Health Policy emphasizes physical activity for children, for example through regular activity within the different school settings. Health promotion in this respect within the health services is also to be strengthened still further at all levels.
Thirdly, the new Health Policy emphasizes appropriate nutrition through general health promotion within the maternity care, preventive child health services and in schools and also through improved and balanced meals in the different school settings.
Fourthly, the new Health Policy emphasizes mental wellbeing, for example by introducing parental training for upbringing and improved services for those in need.
Finally, the new Health Policy puts emphasis on appropriate research in collaboration with the universities in Iceland.
Dear conference guests
The focus of this conference on the health of school age children is timely and appropriate, and fits well with the new Health Policy. Its theme is also in line with the priority of the Government of Iceland to support families and children to attain the best possible health at any given time. I wish you all productive discussions and that your efforts will result in improved services to children and families, wherever you are heading after the conference.
(Talað orð gildir)