The Health-Security Nexus: EU Needs to Integrate Health into Its Security Strategy

Written by | Friday, May 29th, 2020

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that health must form an inherent part of the EU’s security planning and strategy, argues Martin Hojsík, a Slovak member of the European Parliament. As also a member of the Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, Hojsík points out in his opinion piece published in the Parliament’s online magazine that while world leaders have compared the current COVID-19 crisis to a war, in his view, this analogy is perhaps not entirely accurate, as war is a conscious act, while a pandemic may be the result of an unfortunate coincidence. However, there is a common message: “United we stand, divided we fall.” COVID-19 has demonstrated a significant flaw in the EU’s current health policy considerations: unlike in Europe’s and NATO’s military security strategy, there is no preparedness, no prevention, no ‘pre-positioning’ of hardware and no exercises to defend literally all European citizens.
The EU was unprepared and its initial response uncoordinated. We must answer the question of what caused this flaw sooner or later, but right now our task is to establish what must be done about it. COVID-19 has made it clear that in ‘peacetime’ there was no interest in investing in non-profitable vaccines, medicines, and personal protective equipment (PPE). So, this cannot be left only to industry. While the One Health policy approach is laudable, it simply misses one key dimension: the state as the ultimate guarantor of health security through preparedness, prevention, and protection. In the meantime, a series of smaller-scale outbreaks of multiple or totally resistant bacteria (MCR-1, NDM-1, etc..) have sounded alarm bells around the world.
Is the world ready to combat an antimicrobial resistence (AMR) pandemic? The world is rapidly running out of effective antibiotics and the continued overuse of antibiotics in animal husbandry and in public health could usher in a post-antibiotic era in which surgical operations are no longer possible and simple infections will once again become deadly. Can we then go back to what we were doing before? Or do we need to change something? The answer is prepared already, in two documents. The first is an article in The Guardian newspaper of 27 March 2019 by the world’s top AMR expert: Lord Jim O’Neill. This implies that Europe, for its health security, can neither make itself dependent on industry nor on any non-European entity. The second document is a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council from October 2013, which provided the grounds for closer European cooperation – it also established the European Health Security Committee.
This decision “shall apply to public health measures in relation to the following categories of serious cross-border threats to health: a) threats of biological origin (communicable diseases, antimicrobial resistance, biotoxins); b) threats of chemical origin; c) threats of environmental origin; d) threats of unknown origin; e) events which may constitute public health emergencies.” This is not the time for today’s Commission to smooth-talk itself in and out of its true obligations to EU’s citizens. It is time to learn why there should be no place for backroom agreements. It is time to realise that there should be no difference between dying from a bullet or dying from a virus or bacteria. The current President of the European Commission, who is a former Defence Minister, must now integrate health into the EU’s overall security concept and make this vital approach part of the ‘One Health’ strategy.

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