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Brussels, 13 August 2009

Background on the Health Security Committee and the Early Warning and Response System authorities

What is the Health Security Committee?

The Health Security Committee (HSC) was established by the Council in 2001 on the occasion of a discussion following the bioterrorist attacks in the USA where the cardinal role of public health bodies in the fight against bioterrorism was recognised. The Committee was given the responsibility to exchange information on health-related threats and to share information and experience on preparedness and response plans and crisis management strategies. Following a Communication from the Commission to the Council in November 2006, the Health Council agreed in February 2007 on the transitional prolongation and extension of the mandate of the Health Security Committee to focus on three areas:

  • Influenza preparedness and response;

  • Public health preparedness and response to chemical, biological and radio nuclear (CBRN) attacks; and

  • Generic Preparedness and response for public health emergencies.

The HSC is chaired by the European Commission and consists of officials of the EU Members States, officials of the Directorate General for Health and Consumers and other relevant Commission services and agencies (e.g. ECDC, EMEA) and holds regular face-to-face meetings twice a year. The HSC met daily in audio-conference in April and May in view of the H1N1 pandemic and is currently meeting weekly by audio-conference.

What is the Early Warning and Response System (EWRS)?

EWRS is a web-based system linking the Commission, the public health authorities in Member States responsible for measures to control communicable diseases and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). EEA Countries (Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway) are also linked to the system. The EWRS authorities in each Member State form a network committee chaired by the European Commission to make legal decisions on communicable diseases.

Under Decision 2119/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, and Decision 2000/57/EC (amended by Commission Decision of 28/IV/2008), Member States should inform about events likely to affect public health at the EU-level. Therefore, the EWRS is frequently used for notification of outbreaks, exchange of information and discussion about the coordination of measures among players. The EWRS has been successfully used in a number of events such as SARS, avian influenza in humans and other major communicable diseases.

Since November 2007, the ECDC also supports the Commission by operating the informatics tool.

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