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Brussels, 19 October 2005

Pandemic influenza: Kyprianou announces drive to reinforce EU’s preparedness

EU preparedness against an influenza pandemic has improved over the last six months, but Member States need to step up their efforts to strengthen their pandemic preparedness, according to Markos Kyprianou, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. The European Commission is preparing a number of initiatives which aim to help Member States co-ordinate their actions in this regard. There will be an EU-wide command post exercise to simulate a flu pandemic and the publication of a revised policy paper on pandemic preparedness before the end of the year. The Commission and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have also been reviewing Member States’ national plans ahead of an informal meeting of EU health ministers (20-21 October in Hertfordshire, UK) and a European Commission – ECDC - WHO expert conference (24-26 October in Copenhagen), both of which will discuss pandemic preparedness.

“Experts tell us that a human influenza pandemic is a real possibility, which could happen at any time in the coming years,” said Mr Kyprianou.“A human influenza pandemic will have an impact across government and across society. We need to plan for this, and public health authorities across Europe are working hard to strengthen pandemic preparedness. Issues governments need to reflect on in their national preparedness plans include the implications of a pandemic on essential public services such as health, transport, energy and education.”

Speaking about the planned EU pandemic preparedness exercise, Mr. Kyprianou said “This exercise will test Europe’s ability to respond to a pandemic in a coordinated and effective way. Rehearsing our preparedness plans is the key to making them operational. We need to move from theory to practice in our defences against the pandemic.”

EU pandemic preparedness exercise

The ability of national and European level decision makers to coordinate their response to an influenza pandemic will be tested before the end of the year in an EU wide crisis simulation exercise. The two day exercise will involve national public health authorities, the Commission, EU agencies such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and representatives of the vaccine and pharmaceutical industries.

Officials in command centres across Europe will react to imaginary emergency scenarios, in order to rehearse decision-making and coordinating communication on issues such as public health measures, implications of a pandemic for healthcare and other essential public services. A particular focus will be to explore the ability of national and EU-level authorities to co-ordinate a Europe-wide response and to share information quickly and effectively. The exercise will not involve any “real world” mobilisation of emergency services and healthcare staff but rather it will be command centre and desk based.

The exercise is being funded by the Commission and being run by the UK Health Protection Agency. The dates of the exercise and details of the scenarios are not being publicly announced, in order to make it as realistic as possible. Prior to the flu pandemic simulation exercise, a smaller scale health emergency exercise will be held to test the security of communications in this area. A media briefing will be organised by the Commission after both exercises have been completed.

Lessons learned will feed into a review of the Commission’s 2004 policy paper on pandemic preparedness (see IP/04/432), which is currently underway.

Review of national pandemic preparedness plans

In March the Commission hosted a meeting of health officials from 52 European countries (all 25 EU Member States, plus the other 27 countries making up the WHO European Region), to discuss pandemic preparedness planning (see MEX/05/0302). All pledged to develop, or update, their preparedness plans against an influenza pandemics.

All EU Member States now either have national preparedness plans in place or are rapidly developing them. The Commission and the ECDC have received copies of these national plans and have been analysing them, and these plans will be discussed at a European Commission – ECDC - WHO expert conference on pandemic preparedness, which is being hosted by WHO Europe in Copenhagen on 24-26 October.

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