4th EU/WHO Workshop on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness

Speech

Keynote Address by Zsuzsanna Jakab, Director of the ECDC

Introduction

The first EU / WHO Workshop on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness was hosted by DG SANCO in Luxembourg in March 2005.

When one thinks of the progress made in pandemic preparedness since then it’s quite remarkable.  I would like to pay tribute to the vision and leadership shown by Commissioner Kyprianou and his services in starting this process, and the high level of political commitment displayed by Member States and WHO in carrying it forward.

The fact that we have returned to Luxembourg now gives the feeling that maybe we have completed one phase of preparedness.  In some sense this is correct: all EU MS now have plans in place, and all have significant progress. As a result to the EU is far better equiped to handle a pandemic than even 2 years ago.

But it is still only ‘halftime’, and a second phase of preparedness must now begin.  This should focus on making plans more integrated, and more operational, across all levels of society.

This “second phase” of preparedness will require an equal level of commitment going forward over the next two or three years.

How well prepared is Europe to face a pandemic

ECDC became operational in May 2005.  Since the summer of that year, assessing EU countries’ preparedness against a pandemic has been our first major project.

At the request of Commissioner Kyprianou ECDC produced a first report on the status of preparedness in the EU and EEA/EFTA countries based on where we were in Autumn2006.

This October ECDC will produce a second status report, based on a survey undertaken for this Workshop and also drawing on the programme of country visits and self-assessments. 

By the end October, I am proud to say, ECDC supported by experts from Member States, WHO and the Commission will have visited all 30 of the EU and EEA/EFTA Member States to conduct joint self-assessments with them of their preparedness. We consider that this is the most extensive piece of work ever undertaken to help countries improve their preparedness

What has been the progress since the first ECDC status report

The broad conclusions of the second status report are likely to be similar to a year ago.

Considerable progress has been achieved in building preparedness. Major investments of efforts and monies have been made in the health sectors in all Member States: they have produced national plans and are working with the Commission and ECDC to steadily improving their state of preparedness.

Is that not enough I am afraid not.

While all of our self-assessments with Member States have found great progress, all of them have also found much remaining to be done – both by the MS and by ECDC.   This is the case even in countries considered to be among the best prepared.

ECDC has work to do and there are five areas where more work needs to be done by MS and other EU institutions.

  • ensuring that planning and preparedness are integrated across government departments (a pandemic will affect the whole of society, not just the health sector);
  • ensuring that national plans and actions work well together between and within countries;
  • undertaking research into the basic parameters of influenza transmission and the effectiveness of interventions against the infection, and;
  • strengthening the response to seasonal influenza

and especially

  • making plans operational down to the local level so that individual citizens will benefit;  This is probably the most difficult part as it means preparing individual doctors, hospitals, schools and even the local supermarket.
  • So we estimate that a further two or three years of sustained effort will be needed to achieve the level of preparedness needed to respond well to a pandemic. 

ECDC plans for pandemic preparedness in 2008

The self-assessment of 2005-2007 have given us all a pretty good picture of where EU countries are in terms of preparedness, and what still needs to be done.

ECDC can support Member States in three ways:

  • Addressing specific technical issues of interest to several or all Member States
  • Facilitate the sharing of good practices and innovations between Member States by convening smaller more focused regional meeting
  • Assisting Member States that have identified special needs

The exhibition of best practices being held as part of this Workshop is an excellent practical example of how we can share knowledge.  I am looking forward to walking around the exhibition later today, and I trust that many of you will also take this opportunity to learn from your peers.

As well as visiting the States that have asked us to come back quickly ECDC is planning a number of targeted events and meetings in 2008 focussing on specific technical issues. 

These will include:

  • Supporting the new influenza section of the Health Security Committee
  • Undertaking the successful transfer of the excellent work undertaken by the European Influenza Surveillance System (EISS) 
  • Developing with WHO further work on the public health measures
  • Working with the Commission and WHO to better monitor and increase the use of seasonal influenza vaccines
  • Helping DG Research and other research bodies to identify both broader research priorities and specific directed research such as research into how influenza transmits and how to reduce transmission.
  • Continuing to monitor and disseminate news on the latest scientific and public health developments relating to influenza

All of this will continue to be done with close collaboration not only with our two main partners, the Commission and WHO European Region but also other EU Agencies. 

Final thoughts

Much of the work done on pandemic preparedness over past 2 years can serve as a model for improving our generic preparedness, especially in developing cross-government and cross sectoral approaches at national and regional levels. This is particularly important in 2008 as we all turn our attention to implementing the new International Health Regulations.