The preparedness and response planning activities of ECDC aim at ensuring that the European Union and its Member States are fully prepared to effectively respond to any communicable disease threat.
To meet this overarching objective, ECDC supports the European Commission by developing tools and guidelines to assist Member States in evaluating their level of preparedness, identifying potential gaps and vulnerabilities, and strengthening their capacities where needed.
These preparedness and response planning activities take place in the context of the EU’s legal framework on serious cross-border threats to health contained in the EU Decision 1082/2013/EU
Through its activities, ECDC aims at supporting the EU’s preparedness objectives set out in this Decision, i.e.:
- sharing best practice and experience in preparedness and response planning;
- promoting the interoperability of national preparedness planning;
- addressing the intersectoral dimension of preparedness and response planning at Union level;
- supporting the implementation of core capacity requirements for surveillance and response as referred to in Articles 5 and 13 of the International Health Regulations;
Areas of activities:
- National Focal Points meetings;
- Exchange of knowledge and information on threats and outbreaks through the Epidemic Intelligence Information System (EPIS);
- Influenza Pandemic preparedness;
- Communicable disease threats at mass gatherings;
- Bioterrorism and intentional threats;
- Simulation Exercises;
- Training workshops;
- Outbreak assistance teams;
- Emerging and re-emerging diseases;
- Outbreak support;
- Development of glossaries, guidelines, self-assessment instruments and tools to improve preparedness capabilities.
- Support to the countries in building capacities in risk and crisis communication, facilitating sharing of experience, providing tools and resources.
Outbreak assistance teams
In order to support the Member States in their capacity to respond to outbreak situations related to communicable diseases or diseases of unknown origin, ECDC aims to ensure the rapid mobilization of outbreak assistance teams, whose expertise may include epidemiology, clinical medicine, public health, infection control, etc. Particular attention is also given to the mobilization of microbiology expertise, through the outbreak assistance laboratories network. ECDC ensures the immediate availability of the necessary material for field missions, including state of the art communication material, as well as medical or protective material, and - in collaboration with human resources - administrative support is provided. The 24h/7d duty system ensures the permanent availability of ECDC experts to provide support to the Member States.
Emerging and re-emerging diseases
One of the focuses of the preparedness and outbreak support activities includes emerging and re-emerging diseases, which represent a potential threat to Europe. Ensuring sufficient diagnostic capacity for this group of diseases is a priority for ECDC, for which the outbreak assistance lab network is an important reference. Following the outbreaks of chikungunya in the Indian Ocean (2005-2006) and in Italy (2007), emphasis was put on mapping the current distribution of the vector, as well as the risk for its further spread in the EU. A general risk assessment of vector-borne diseases in Europe was carried out, the results of which will be published in the near future.
Guidelines and procedures
Guidelines and standard operating procedures are operational tools to ensure that international public health alerts, caused by communicable diseases, and threatening the EU are investigated in an effective and coordinated manner. While the frontline response to these events is ensured by the Member States, ECDC provides an added value for those aspects relating to the European level of the response activities. Hence, the context of the guidelines and procedures is defined by outbreaks of European importance, including multi-Member State outbreaks and outbreaks outside the EU borders but potentially affecting the European Community.
In collaboration with the training team, short courses on managerial skills for outbreak response coordinators are organized, aiming at reinforcing the management aspect of the outbreak response capacity in the European Member States. The training is constructed around three main pillars: decision making, communication, and team management. It targets experienced health professionals (mostly medical epidemiologists) with experience in field outbreak investigation and in the management of small teams.
Active input is also given in a second series of short courses, i.e. the joint training on epidemiological and microbiological aspects of outbreak investigation. This training aims at strengthening communication between laboratory specialists and epidemiologists in order to create an integrated laboratory-field epidemiology network for outbreak detection, investigation and response on a national and international level.
Finally, capacity building in Member States through the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET) is also supported via the involvement of EPIET fellows in various international field missions related to outbreak response. Several investigations of measles and avian influenza outbreaks have been carried out. Moreover, since September 2008, two laboratory technicians are integrated in EPIET, providing them the opportunity to strengthen their epidemiological skills and knowledge.