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Androulla Vassiliou

Member of the European Commission, Responsible for Health

Statement by Androulla Vassiliou, EU Health Commissioner for Health on the EC's reaction to the novel flu virus outbreak in Mexico

Statement made at the operations room of DG SANCO, on the EC's reaction to the novel flu virus outbreak in Mexico
Brussels, 27 April 2009

The European Commission has responded rapidly to the current threat to public health as soon as the situation has been identified and communicated by the World Health Organisation. Since Friday, we are in contact with the Member States, the WHO, the ECDC, our delegations in Mexico, the United States and Canada, and of course with the American authorities (CDC). We are closely monitoring the situation as it evolves and we are making use of all our information channels, the mechanisms set in the past and the experience gained during the bird flu crisis, for the exchange of data and for the monitoring of the situation.

The EU public health emergency systems have been of outstanding importance in putting in place a rapid system to share the available information and to take the appropriate actions to manage this event.

We have called around the table all the actors which in the EU and outside the EU are responsible at the highest level in their ministries for the public health measures to respond to emergency and crisis situations like this one. In particular, the EU Health Security Committee has been involved from the beginning and the Global Health Security Initiative has been activated.

Our activities have been implemented through the mechanism guaranteed by the current EU legislation and the Early Warning and Response component of the Network Committee for the surveillance of communicable diseases in the EU.

Diseases like the one due to Swine influenza virus A(N1H1) are of more concern because they could represent a global challenge, in particular because of the rapid and frequent international travels. That is why we have to be extremely prudent in assessing the current situation, in order to understand precisely the mechanism of transmission, to evaluate the potential danger to the health of citizens, and the resources to treat patients, such as vaccines and antivirals.

Our experts in the WHO, ECDC and Member States are working together in order to clarify these points and they are sharing the information on a transparent and permanent basis. Our consultation mechanism with all these structures and Institutions has been put rapidly in place and works very efficiently.

I know that WHO has declared on Saturday during its meeting of the Emergency Committee roster a 'public health emergency of international concern' and that is recommending strengthening the surveillance for identifying suspected cases. Personally, I would try to avoid non essential travel to the areas which are reported to be in the centre of the clusters in order to minimise the personal risk and to reduce the potential risk to spread the infection to other people. I would also suggest to travellers to seek immediate medical advice if they have any of the symptoms described.

I follow very closely the situation, and I am in contact with Mrs Chan, the director General of WHO and with Mrs Jakab, the director of ECDC. This morning, I asked the Czech Presidency to convene an extraordinary meeting of the Health Ministers Council as soon as possible. Later today I will go to Luxembourg to inform the EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs.

I am pursuing with the Member States and the ECDC the correct medical countermeasures to put in place to deal with this threat, and I will of course keep the press and public informed on a regular basis of how this situation is developing.

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