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EACEA National Policies Platform
Poland

Poland

7. Health and Well-Being

7.8 Current debates and reforms

Last update: 25 March 2022

In 2018 the Polish Vaccination Knowledge Association “STOP NOP” was the author of draft amendments to the Act on Prevention and Combating Infections and Infectious Diseases in People (Ustawa o zapobieganiu oraz zwalczaniu zakażeń i chorób zakaźnych u ludzi). It intended to waive the obligation of compulsory vaccination and make it voluntary. However, as the Chief Sanitary Inspector says, "from the perspective of public safety and citizens’ health, each change likely to lower vaccination ratios exposes us to the return of diseases which are almost forgotten". The project for the Act was rejected in the fall of 2018, but the question of vaccination availability is still extant and returns to the public debate, especially in the context of the COVID-19 vaccine. There is a strong lobby in Poland fighting against any kind of preventive measures for the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as opposing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations or preferential treatment for vaccinated persons. Many measures which are common in Western Europe are, therefore, not undertaken in Poland.

In 2020, with a Constitutional Tribunal’s decree, the abortion is only legal in Poland in extreme narrow conditions, which has created a freezing effect. Issues linked to dependencies and addictions are also part of such discussions. Poland definitely prefers the paradigm of total abstinence from psychoactive drugs, which significantly hinders harm reduction activities. In the same way, mental and ideological limitations affect the issue of treating people carrying HIV. There are no uniform and universal medical procedures in relation to them. This is all the more important as new social phenomena are emerging, which are the cause of this and many other infections, such as prostitution of young males or so-called chemsex which means taking drugs or consuming alcohol to enhance sexual  pleasure which, in turn, leads to a total loss of control and increased exposure to infection. In the recent years increased sense of threat among LGBT+ youth and an associated is observed in mental health issues, such as depression or suicidal thoughts.

Activities aimed at the protection of the young generation from sexual abuse and its consequences are the subject of a debate currently in progress. The withdrawal of public funding provided to activities conducted by the Empowering Children Foundation (among other things in relation to providing the helpline for children and youth already discussed) is a tangible result of that dispute. The Foundation aims to protect the youngest citizens from harm and minimise the consequences that result from experiencing violence. Sexual violence is one of the frequently indicated forms which has resulted in the emergence of this issue in public debates.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted negative phenomena regarding the psychiatric health of the youth, which intensified the debate on children psychiatry in Poland and the necessary changes. In the period of the pandemic, there is a marked increase in the number of young people seeking help on the Telephone Helpline for the Young 116 111.

During the pandemic, young people (18-24), have more commonly experienced feelings of helplessness, depression, exhaustion, or burnout than the general Polish average. Such feelings are their most prevalent in 20 years. Already in 2014 to 2018, the sense of peer group support had deteriorated, which has only worsened during lockdowns. The experience of domestic and peer violence has emerged as an important effect of lockdowns – it’s been experienced by 27% of young people, with 9% having nowhere to turn for help. Peer violence has moved into the virtual realm. This all poses serious questions for the aftereffects of COVID-19 in the future, an issue which has not yet been properly engaged on in the public discourse.