Arthritis & the European Workforce

Effectively treating rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases doesn’t just serve patients.  It also benefits Europe’s workplaces.

So for this year’s World Arthritis Day, advocates from the RMD community are raising awareness about why – and how – policymakers can empower workers with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases to live full, productive lives.

Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases in Europe

Millions of Europeans of working age have RMDs, which account for 60% of workplace health problems.  There are more than 200 such diseases, which affect the joints but can also impact nearly any area of the body.  RMDs are, collectively, the leading cause of premature retirement and sick leave due to physical disability in Europe.

The pandemic has compounded these factors by presenting new challenges for people living with RMDs: 

  • Certain medications for RMDs can suppress the immune system, increasing patients’ vulnerability to the novel coronavirus.  
  • Several conditions associated with severe COVID-19 are common comorbidities for people with RMDs.  
  • Economic uncertainty can heighten anxiety for people living with RMDs, and it discourages some patients from taking time off of work for necessary treatment.  
  • Certain medications for RMDs have become scarce or more difficult to get during the pandemic.

Policy Priorities

Given the scope of current challenges, patient advocacy organisations such as EULAR are urging policymakers to prioritise productivity and independence for people living with RMDs.  

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has acknowledged the impact of RMDs on the European workforce and economy with a new campaign called “Lighten the Load.”  The effort highlights how workplace conditions, from schedules to ergonomic work stations, can affect people’s ability to succeed at work while also maintaining their health.

But productivity also hinges on patients’ ability to access treatments that keep them independent and active.  EULAR’s 2020 Brussels Forum, held October 12 on World Arthritis Day, explores questions of cost and value related to RMDs, treatment access and the European workforce during COVD-19.

As advocates and policymakers work together toward solutions, one point is clear: Supporting people with arthritis and other RMDs to remain productive members of the European workforce is an investment that policymakers can’t afford to neglect.

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