The EU is a major actor in crisis prevention and response, both inside the Union and globally. It is strongly committed to both health security and global health.
In addition to its role coordinating health policies inside its frontiers, the EU is a driving force behind global efforts to prevent, respond to and mitigate the effects of major health crises.
This was demonstrated by the leading role that the EU played – and its impact – in response to the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) crisis (caused by the virus A, (H5N1)), and again in response to the influenza pandemic 2009 (caused by the virus A(H1N1)). The EU helped to set up an unprecedented global partnership against HPAI, encompassing major political actors, the UN, development organisations and more than 120 nations. The Beijing conference of January 2006 was the founding event of this new mechanism of collaboration, which sees the joining of forces at global level to combat threats that know no borders.
Since its initial involvement in the response to the HPAI crisis, the EU has focused its efforts – and encouraged other actors to do so – on national and regional ownership by the beneficiaries of EU assistance, and on a long-term vision of sustainable reinforcement of public and animal health systems. Such an approach ensures that the benefits of EU cooperation are maximised: investments made around HPAI were used to tackle the influenza pandemic of 2009 and remain operational for future major health crises.
At policy level, the EU works with key partners to ensure attention remains focused on all emerging and re-emerging diseases, neglected zoonoses and major health risks originating at the interface between animals, humans and their various environments. This has become known as the ‘One Health’ approach.
The recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa marks the largest, most severe and complex Ebola epidemic in the history of the disease. The number of cases and deaths is spiralling and the crisis has a very destructive potential. The EU responded swiftly and has actively supported international initiatives led by the UN and WHO. The European Council issued a strong message of support calling for increased coordination at EU level and asked for the preparation of a Comprehensive Response Framework. The EU has stressed that the crisis requires a long term approach that extends beyond the immediate containment of the disease.
Recent crises have demonstrated that communication on pandemic readiness remains a huge challenge for the coming years. This is particularly so in developed countries, where both health personnel and the public must acquaint themselves with a new paradigm: globalisation and other factors have created a new global health environment, meaning that the world has to again learn to live with an ‘infectious uncertainty’ and the potential worldwide impact of local crises.
Between 2005 and 2010, the global community made unprecedented efforts to limit the impact – both on poultry production and human populations – of the highly pathogenic avian influenza crisis HPAI (caused by the H5N1 virus) that had originated in Asia and expanded to the whole world.
Such a complex preparedness and response process greatly facilitated adequate global, regional and national responses when the A(H1N1) pandemic was declared in 2009. The European Union, together with key partners like the USA, Japan, Canada, Australia, the United Nations Influenza Coordination, UN agencies, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Bank, has been a leader and a key architect of various initiatives, and of the international coordination process generated. This includes five International Ministerial Conferences on Avian and Pandemic Influenza (IMCAPI) in Beijing, Bamako, New Delhi, Sharm-El-Sheikh and Hanoi.
Based on a long-term vision of development, the EU response largely focused on the sustainable and multipurpose strengthening of public health and veterinary services.
What is Pandemic Readiness?
While pandemic preparedness refers to efforts to enable the prevention, management and mitigation of the effects of a pandemic, pandemic readiness refers to a more permanent status, in which all sectors of society are constantly ready for a pandemic, or indeed any major health risk with the potential to disrupt normal life. The global response to H5N1 and A(H1N1) influenzas resulted in a fair level of pandemic readiness in some countries, while more work is required in others.
What is ‘One Health’?
‘One Health’ (OH) is an integrated approach to health that focuses on the interactions between animals, humans and their diverse environments. It encourages collaborations, synergies and cross-fertilisation of all professional sectors and actors in general whose activities may have an impact on health.
The role of the EU in pandemic readiness and ‘One Health’
In addition to the political leadership role mentioned above, the EU has committed more than €400 million to the H5N1 response. Additional contributions were made by EU member states during the A(H1N1) pandemic in 2009. Since 2008, the EU has promoted the OH approach, and it has already been integrated into certain EU strategy documents.