Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine flu virus

The spread of the swine flu virus is undoubtedly cause for concern given the rapidly rising number of confirmed cases worldwide. In the EU we now have confirmed cases in the UK, Spain and Germany.

It is to Alan Johnson and Gordon Brown's credit that the UK is one of the most prepared countries in the world with a stockpile of anti-viral drugs and agreements in place with manufacturers of potential vaccines for their supply.

Of course health is primarily a national competence. But the European Union can and does provide added value to the policies of national governments. In a continent such as ours, in which we are so interdependent and where we enjoy free movement of people, it makes sense to coordinate surveillance efforts, exchange expertise and best practice and ensure measures implemented to tackle outbreaks are consistent, complementary and effective.

In 2005 the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) was established with a remit to strengthen our defences against infectious diseases. It works with national authorities to strengthen and develop continent-wide surveillance and supports the EU's Early Warning Response System, which keeps all competent health authorities in permanent contact with one another.

This early warning system is playing a large part in the EU's response to swine flu and tomorrow in Luxembourg there is a meeting between EU Health Ministers.

The EU has learned from the experience gained from the SARS outbreak and avian influenza and thanks to the ECDC and the Early Warning Response System it now has much more robust surveillance and alert mechanisms in place than in the past.

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