Targeting Zika: EU to Speed Up Response to Health Emergencies

Written by | Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

The European Union wants to get faster at responding to health emergencies such as the recent Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks. The block’s executive body, the Commission, admitted on Monday (15 February) that the EU’s response to the Ebola crisis was too slow especially when the deployment of medical personnel and logistical issues were concerned. In an attempt to take lessons from the past crises, the Commission and a number of Member States are now establishing medical corps that can mobilize staff during health emergencies both inside and outside the bloc. The medical teams will be coordinated by their own coordination experts and they will be equipped with mobile bio-safety laboratories, medical evacuation planes and logistical support teams.

Commissioner Christos Stylianides, in charge of for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, commented that “the aim of the European Medical Corps is to create a much faster and more efficient EU response to health crises when they occur”. He added that the EU needs “to learn the lessons from the Ebola response; a key difficulty was mobilising medical teams,” he added. It is not mandatory for EU Member States to join the new medical corps. So far only nine EU countries – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands – have expressed their interest. The new medical teams will fall under the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism framework, under the new European Emergency Response Capacity.

On top of creating new medical units, the EU will allocate €10 million to fight the spread of the Zika virus in the Americas. Moreover, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will establish a unit that will be working on developing a vaccine against the virus that can cause abnormal brain development in the foetuses of pregnant women by mother-to-child transmission, which may in turn result in miscarriage or microcephaly.

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