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Brussels, 29 November 2005

Preparing for pandemic influenza and other health threats: Commission adopts EU plans

Two plans to help prepare the EU and its Member States to deal with major cross-border health emergencies (such as SARS and bioterrorism) and a possible influenza pandemic have been adopted by the European Commission. The first is a Communication to strengthen Europe’s preparedness to respond in a coordinated way to generic public health emergencies, such as the SARS outbreak and the anthrax attacks in the United States. The second Communication on pandemic influenza preparedness applies the approach set out in the generic Communication and updates the Commission’s existing plan of March 2004. The Communications provide a basis for Member States to review and enhance their national plans as necessary. The ability of the EU and its Member States to respond in a coordinated way to an influenza pandemic was tested in a Europe-wide simulation exercise on 23 and 24 November. EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou will brief Health Ministers on the evaluation of the exercise at the Health Council on 9 December. Praising Member States’ efforts to strengthen and coordinate their pandemic plans over the past months, Mr. Kyprianou nonetheless emphasised the need to continue developing defensive preparations against any wide-scale public health crisis.
“Preparing for a possible flu pandemic and other health threats is a continuous process of re-evaluating and updating existing plans in line with the latest developments. We must continue to be vigilant and to strengthen and sustain coordination in this area,” said Mr Kyprianou. “We do not know when a serious public health emergency will arise, but we do know that the better prepared we are, the greater the chances of limiting its effects. The Commission is committed to working with Member States and international partners to review, revise and reinforce all preparedness plans as necessary, so that the EU can respond effectively to any health crisis which confronts us.”

Up to date measures to improve preparedness

The two Communications adopted by the Commission are separate but complementary documents: one on strengthening EU coordination in case of generic public health emergencies and the other on influenza pandemic preparedness and response planning.

The paper on generic preparedness takes a broader approach, highlighting the importance of preparing for all types of public health emergencies – whether anticipated, like a flu pandemic, or unexpected, such as a SARS-like epidemic. It aims to help Member States in developing generic preparedness plans, by detailing the essential components of such plans, while also promoting the most coordinated approach possible. The paper identifies the organisation of further simulation exercises and peer reviews of national plans as urgent tasks for the future.

The EU pandemic influenza preparedness plan updates the Commission paper of March 2004 (see IP/04/432) in line with recent developments paper, notably the revised WHO definitions of pandemic phases and the opening of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). In particular, it sets out a proposed EU response for each phase of an influenza pandemic as defined by the World Health Organisation, and clarifies the responsibilities of the Member States, the Commission and the EU agencies in an influenza pandemic.

The operational part of the Communication details for each WHO pandemic phase the action that should be taken in terms of:

  • planning and coordination: the respective roles of the WHO, the Commission, the ECDC and the Member States are identified;
  • monitoring and assessment: Member States are required to transmit information, consult and coordinate through the EU’s Early Warning and Response System;
  • prevention and containment: measures such as the deployment of anti-virals and the development and deployment of vaccine, as well as other health system responses; and
  • communication: between Member States and the EU, as well as the provision of accurate and consistent information to the public.

A key message in both Communications is the need to extend emergency planning beyond the health sector, to include aspects such as civil protection, transport, communications, emergency services, investment in laboratories, and international relations. Commissioner Kyprianou will present the Communications to ministers at the Health Council on 9 December.
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