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Strasbourg, 15 September 2009

Questions and Answers on Communication to the public and media and on Support to Third Countries in tackling pandemic (H1N1) 2009

What is the Commission Staff Working Document on communicating with the public and the media on Pandemic (H1N1) 2009?

With Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 expected to pick up pace from the autumn onwards and in order to achieve an adequate uptake of vaccines among risk groups and to deal with other prevention and vaccination-related problems, public health authorities across Europe will need a carefully planned communication strategy.

The Commission Staff Working Document on communicating with the public and the media on Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 is one of the five working documents accompanying the Commission communication on Pandemic (H1N1) 2009.

It takes a look at how, at EU level, and in close conjunction with all national communicators, Europeans can receive information that is transparent, coherent and consistent. The European Commission will continue to work closely with the Member States through its Health Security Committee communicators network to share and exchange information on this issue to this end.

What are the proposals for the improvement and development of communication and information tools?

The staff working document on communication to the public and the media proposes key areas for development:

  • Web-based information

The dedicated Commission web page on Pandemic (H1N1)  2009 will be strengthened to link directly to all the material produced and published on national websites (e.g. video clips, posters, leaflets, fact sheets, Q&As) and will be regularly updated. The website is updated in close collaboration with European Agencies, for example European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Medicines Agency. Amassing communication material from all over the EU, the website will be the prime example of the EU’s coordination role.

  • Coordination of information to call centres

Several Member States have created call centres or hotlines to deal with Pandemic (H1N1) 2009. Given the range and complexity of the questions, call centre workers must share the questions and answers and, where possible, issue the same messages to all citizens. Sharing of information between MS call centres and giving same answers are essential to have an EU coordinated communication on the public health response to the pandemic. A common platform must be developed to enable call centres to search and input information and to allow accurate information or new concerns to be circulated quickly. The HSC will be invited to supervise the process and give appropriate answers and templates to call centres.

  • A collective response to Pandemic (H1N1)  2009

To demonstrate the coordinated response across the EU, the Member States and the Commission might decide to have a special day dedicated to communicating specific messages on the H1N1 2009 situation, and protective measures, if needed.

The European Commission would be prepared to launch a Eurobarometer survey to assess how European citizens perceive the risks and the threat posed by Pandemic (H1N1) 2009.

What is the EU Health Security Committee Communicators’ network?

This network is composed of press officers and spokespersons from national health authorities and EU agencies. This network focuses on crisis communication in response to health threats. The network provides a forum where crisis communication-related issues and practices can be exchanged, discussed and used for coordination purposes. All parties retain their ability to communicate independently.

Why a Staff Working Paper on Third Countries?

As EU Member States have announced that they are developing extensive plans and are committing significant funds to strengthen their capacities to prevent and/or to mitigate the effects of the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 within Europe, the EU cannot ignore the potential consequences for the populations of third countries. The European Commission intends to respond appropriately to the difficulties that third countries face due to the pandemic influenza H1N1 2009. This is an issue of solidarity and of efficiency in the face of a global crisis.

What does the Commission intend to achieve in this document on support to third countries?

The objective of the current document is to identify areas and EU mechanisms, which could be used to support third countries in the face of the pandemic influenza (H1N1) 2009. This objective should be reached while respecting the principles of country ownership and aid effectiveness.

In particular, the European Commission could address the following specific objectives:

  • To closely monitor the situation in third countries, through regular contacts with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the UN Senior Influenza Coordinator (UNSIC), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the EU Member States, partner countries, and with other stakeholders.

  • To identify the actual needs of the countries, for strengthening their preparedness and prevention capacities, but also for coping with acute outbreaks if and when they occur.

  • To conduct EU vaccine procurement in a way so as not to impede access by developing countries to vaccine and other medical goods and to promote increased access taking into account limited resources.

What has been done so far by the EU in order to support Third Countries?

The European Commission maintains constant contacts with WHO and UNSIC in order to follow the development of the pandemic influenza (H1N1) 2009 and to share information and expertise on the internal EU aspects of the spread of the virus.

The European Commission has been actively supporting the global response to the Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 politically, technically and financially in particular by setting up of and contributing to a World Bank trust fund. It has also developed good working relations with the UN senior influenza coordination (UNSIC) and with international organisations such as, the World Organisation and World Bank in order to built a pool of European countries EU internal expertise and a forum for exchanging information that could be widened to cope with this new pandemic.

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