Labour’s high ranking within the EU
Dr Caruana is Parliamentary Secretary for the Rights of People with Disability and Active Ageing
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s aspiration for Malta to be the best in Europe is consistently being realised in various sectors. It is already remarkable that in the first three years under Labour’s guidance, Malta has achieved the highest rate of economic growth among all EU member states, recorded the highest employment figures and hit the lowest levels in unemployment. Some might be of the opinion that however exceptional these results may be, they can only be measured in real terms through the direct benefits for individual Maltese and Gozitans.
They conveniently wish to ignore the evident feel-good factor around and disregard the conspicuous social mark of the Budget 2017 tangible measures. The bad news for such socalled expert observers is that the people themselves know and feel a lot better than all the doom and gloom they are continuously bombarded with.
Malta’s international results
Achieving high positions in most rankings among the 28 member states may have become a routine event that many tend to take for granted. Dr Muscat’s consistent high trust rates seem to be well-established, putting people’s minds at rest that the country is in safe hands. The EU’s statistical results keep confirming the Maltese government’s successful performance in various sectors.
Last Thursday we had the latest such statement which said that healthy life expectancy among EU member states is highest in Malta. Healthy Life Years (HLY) is a measure of disability-free life expectancy which indicates how long people can expect to live without limitations to their normal activities.
The European Health at a Glance report says that on average across EU member states, HLY at birth in 2014 was 61.8 years for women and 61.4 years for men. It was highest in Malta and Sweden for both women and men (above 70 years), and shortest in the Slovak Republic, Latvia and Portugal for women, and in Latvia, Estonia and the Slovak Republic for men.
Life expectancy is highest in Malta
Life expectancy in Malta was recorded as 83.7 for women and 79.3 for men, surpassing the EU average – 83.6 and 78.1 years respectively. Malta also shares the highest place with Sweden, with women expected to live more than 85 per cent of their life expectancy without limitations in their usual activities, while this proportion reached over 90 per cent for men.
This is indeed very encouraging news for the Parliamentary Secretariat I lead for Active Ageing and Community Care, together with the relative services provided by the Health Ministry and that for Social Solidarity. The latest news of the high standards of healthy lifestyles is indeed satisfying and inspiring for me and my colleagues, but in itself is an added impetus for us to work harder to maintain the high levels achieved. It poses further challenges we will face by doubling our resolve in the coming years to strengthen residential and community based services, including domiciliary care, which fall under my remit which has a major role to enhance the quality of life of older persons.
This was the message I wanted to convey during the announcement of our new agreement with St Elizabeth Home to add another 150 to our bed provision. This will cater for all levels of dependency and will include respite services and dementia day care together with our priority for this year to provide services for couples both in Malta and for the first time in Gozo in Villa San Lawrenz.
An important meeting on autism
During the past week I participated in a well-attended conference organised by MEP Miriam Dalli on autism. As policy-maker I reiterated my concern about the existing fragmentation in the disability sector. This undermines the maximum utilisation of resources available and the continuum of service provision required at different stages in life.
The Persons in the Autism Spectrum Empowerment Act enacted by the government earlier this year is landmark legislation. The State Support Plan envisaged in this new law will be compiled by the stakeholders themselves and includes people with autism and their families who, together with other entities involved in autism, will compose a national council. This ensures that the country responds in a decisive manner to what this sector deserves in a coordinated and seamless manner.
The law itself aims at the empowerment of persons within the autism spectrum by providing for their health and wellbeing in society. It also envisages the betterment of their living conditions, their participation and inclusion in society. It is also meant to make ancillary and consequential provisions in full adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability – which we are currently adopting in full as part of Maltese Law.
The new idea of self-determination, as stated in the relative Act, proves that we, as a society, can be more effective without knee-jerk solutions, and create space for independent long-term solutions, piloted by these persons themselves.
The unfortunate situation is that we still haven’t got enough knowledge on how best to implement principles around a universal design, especially in our educational and social welfare system. We also need to strengthen the awareness that seems to be lacking in the general public. However, our challenge remains in investing in our children and young people who are the leaders that need to see this.
This is no easy task but it is the solution if we want to have a sound footing in this sector. It is fundamental to have sound and inclusive educational structures that are able to respond to the needs of these students.
Infection prevention and control
Last week, the St Vincent de Paul Long-term Care Facility management invited me to inaugurate its annual major educational event, the Infection Prevention and Control Conference. This year’s theme ‘Facing the Challenges’ focused mainly on antibiotic usage and healthcare-associated infections and current issues in control practices which were expanded and discussed by learned speakers.
In my introductory speech I referred to recent figures issued by the World Health Organisation, showing that there is an occurrence of between 3.5 per cent and 12 per cent healthcare related infections in developed countries. Established procedures need to be strictly followed by health professionals and paramedical staff in order to avoid endangering patients’ health levels that could also be fatal. It is a known fact that despite standard precautions taken, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control still notes that up to seven per cent of patients may get various infections.
While congratulating St Vincent de Paul’s management for such an educational event, I wish to express my heartfelt appreciation to all employees who rigorously abide by set procedures throughout their long days and nights of dedicated service which was in fact recognised and awarded at the same event.
Useful information meetings
Among other scheduled events, last Wednesday I launched a series of information meetings about the many Budget 2017 social measures. The numerous initiatives may need some explaining for people who may not be fully aware of what benefits they are entitled to as from next January. Officials from the Parliamentary Secretariat for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Active Ageing and departments address such meetings and answer in detail queries made about eligibility and time-frames and the various measures that will be soon introduced to thousands of people and their families in the disability and elderly sectors.
With the first meetings held in Mosta and Xewkija, others will be held through December and January in Paola, Qormi, Birkirkara and Għarb in Gozo. Such informative gatherings are meant to reduce the possibility of complaints by some persons who will not be aware that they are the real beneficiaries of the numerous budgetary measures. This too helps all those who the Budget 2017 is meant to support, as Labour progresses on it path to have a society that is fair, supportive and all inclusive.