- detection and communication – preparedness requires timely detection and rapid distribution of information to relevant stakeholders.
- threat and risk assessment – HSC collects data on threats and risks from relevant EU agencies, and shares these with national authorities.
- preparedness – HSC seeks to expand national capacity for preparedness by offering technical assistance and guidelines.
- scientific advice – responding to a public health crisis requires rapid mobilisation of experts, and expert opinions are shared via alert and communication systems.
- crisis management and testing of plans– with the help of national authorities the HSC has developed protocols and guidelines for best preparedness practices and has tested emergency plans through several exercises.
- cooperation – HSC supports preparedness across sectors and internationally, supporting and promoting the WHO International Health Regulations and creating links between alert systems across Europe and more globally.
A more detailed description of the priorities and activities of the HSC can be found in the Commission Staff Working Document Health Security in the European Union and Internationally.
Examples of HSC activities
- Refugees / Migration following unrest in North African countries in 2011 - The HSC discussed the risk of spread of communicable diseases in refugee camps in EU Member States and challenges for national healthcare that resulted thereof, and sanitary issues in the camps.
- Volcano ash cloud in 2010 – The HSC discussed the possible impact of the volcano eruption such as possible effects from ask particles, interruption in transport of transplants and medical prescriptions for persons stranded abroad.
- Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 – Frequent HSC meetings were held every day during the peak of the pandemic. The HSC was the key body for coordinating the response in the EU. It was a platform for sharing information on countermeasures (e.g. vaccination strategies) and for coordinating communication to health workers and for EU citizens.
- Shortage of radio-isotopes for medical use in 2008– EU health ministers requested the HSC to consider coordinated actions which could be taken to counter the lack of radio-isotopes used for health purposes (e.g. diagnostics and treatment of cancers and heart disease).
The Commission is working closely with EU governments to ensure that their response to serious cross-border health threats is coherent and well coordinated.
The Commission's Health Security Initiative includes a requirement for them to notify all types of threats at EU level, not only communicable diseases.
Recent examples of coordination of health threats are the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and recent Polio and MeRs outbreaks.
Health Security Committee
This body is used by the Commission to coordinate health-security measures in the EU. It was set up in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.
Over the years the Committee has established a solid base for preparedness activities, by:
- enabling EU governments to exchange information and evaluate health events
- functioning as a discussion forum that advises health ministers
- facilitating coordinated crisis response by EU governments.
The committee is composed of representatives from each national administration, the Commission’s Directorate-General for Health and Consumers and other relevant Commission departments and agencies (e.g. ECDC, EMA).
Response to serious cross-border health threats
The Decision 1082/2013/EU on serious cross-border threats to health gives the Health Security Committee a solid legal footing in co-ordinating preparedness.
It allows the Health Security Committee to decide quickly on the coordination of national responses, communication messages to the public and to the healthcare professionals.