Medicine, Health: Parliament moves to shore up Europe's disease defences
The recent outbreaks of
SARS and avian flu have highlighted the need to coordinate
responses across national boundaries. Following the European
Parliament’s green light, a new agency looks set to
lead efforts at the EU front line by next year.
The European Parliament voted last week in
favour of creating the European Centre for Disease Prevention
(ECDP) by 2005, which will be based in Sweden. The new €48-million
agency will enable EU Member States to pool their disease-control
expertise more effectively and react faster to future outbreaks.
“We cannot afford to be complacent, as the global experience
with SARS showed,” said UK Conservative Member of the
European Parliament (MEP) John Bowis who was responsible for
drafting the Parliament’s position on the new agency.
The Commission – which proposed the creation of the
ECDP last June – welcomed the Parliament’s vote.
“Infectious diseases can pose a deadly threat and they
do not respect national borders. This new EU agency will enable
Europe to be better prepared for future epidemics,”
said Health Commissioner David Byrne.
SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, was first recognised
last February. During 2003, the deadly virus spread from China
to many parts of Asia, and as far afield as Canada. Despite
hundreds of deaths around the world and its massive economic
impact, many experts believe that rapid global collaboration
– coordinated by the World Health Organisation –
averted a major global pandemic.
A new level of co-operation
The world may have narrowly averted disaster with SARS,
but new threats are bound to emerge. This year has already seen Avian
Influenza not only cross national borders from South Korea to several Asian
countries, but the virus has also crossed the species barrier from poultry
to humans. Such sudden developments require highly co-ordinated and rapid responses.
"Until now, Member States have relied upon an ad hoc informal set-up to co-operate
and this must be strengthened," MEP Bowis added. "The centre will allow the EU to be proactive and
not just reactive."
Due to the seriousness of ECDP's remit, the Commission, Parliament and Council
of Ministers have agreed to fast track the legislative procedure. Close coordination with the
Commission enabled the Parliament to approve the plans after just one reading. The Council of
Ministers is likely to follow suit in the coming weeks.
Since diseases do not just stop at Europe's borders - such close collaboration
will need to develop globally. The WHO is pushing for a tight global disease policing system. "With
SARS, we learned that only by working together can we control emerging global public health threats,"
said WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook. "Now, we confront another threat to human health and we
must reaffirm existing collaboration and form new ones."
Source: EU and WHO