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Public Health

Risk assessment

The first step in responding to an emerging cross-border health threat, is to assess its magnitude and associated risks. It is important to know:

  • Origin: what is the disease or chemical causing the outbreak?
  • Transmission: how is it spread (e.g., air-borne like influenza, foodborne like salmonella or spread by mosquitoes like Zika)?
  • Consequences: what are the consequences for human health (e.g., causes pneumonia, etc.)?
  • Lethality: what is the disease's severity, including the lethality (how deadly can it be)?

The answers to these questions determine the possible options for response. In addition, as with COVID-19, we can be confronted by novel diseases, where we need to plan a response even before we have the answers to all these questions.

Regulation (EU) 2022/2371 puts in place coordinated EU risk assessment mechanisms to cover the different types of cross-border health threats. This involves mobilising expertise from relevant EU and international bodies to provide robust scientific advice to feed into coordinating the response.

Which agencies perform a risk assessment?

Several EU agencies and bodies can be involved in providing the risk assessment at EU level, relying on high-level scientific expertise:

Where the risk assessment required is totally or partially outside the mandate of the Union agencies and bodies, the Commission provides an ad hoc risk assessment. The risk assessment takes into account, if available, relevant information provided by other entities, in particular by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the case of a public health emergency of international concern.