Response to the refugee crisis

The Commission is supporting EU countries at the forefront of the refugee crisis with grants from the EU Health Programme of over €5.5 million. This money will help address the common health challenges in the most affected Member States. A grant to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) will be used for testing a personal health record which aims to reconstruct the medical history of migrants and evaluate their health needs. Three additional projects – to be carried out by Médecins du Monde, regional authorities and academics – will receive grants to provide immediate support to Member States such as protocols and clinical guidelines, language and communication tools and capacity building, including training. The Health Programme is also supporting longer-term actions on refugees and migrants’ health and integration and more projects can be envisaged.

To find out more about the Health Programme from ec.europa.eu website

Serious cross-border threats to health

At the end of 2015, the EU implemented a decision to improve preparedness across the EU and strengthen the capacity for coordinated responses to health emergencies. This will improve health security in the EU and will help member states prepare for cross-border threates caused by communicable diseases, chemical, biological or environmental events.

The Decision has four major benefits:

  • to strengthen preparedness planning
  • to improve risk assessment and management of cross-border health threats
  • to establish the necessary arrangements for the development and implementation of a joint procurement of medical countermeasures
  • to enhance the coordination of response at EU level by providing a solid legal mandate to the Health Security Committee

To read more about this decision on the ec.europa.eu website

Cross-border genetic testing of rare diseases

Methods for carrying out genetic testing are developing at an unprecedented and unforeseen rate.
Simultaneously, the overall number of genes linked to rare diseases (RD) is increasing. This means that it is now possible to provide an etiological diagnosis for several thousand RD(or ‘Mendelian’ diseases).
Although accurate diagnosis enables specific treatment for only a minority of RD at present, the outcomes of genetic testing may allow a better understanding of their prognosis and in all cases clarify the origin of the disease (preventing further unnecessary clinical and laboratory differential diagnostic investigations), and elucidate the mode of inheritance, thereby facilitating life planning and reproductive choices for the entire whole family.
To read the whole recommendation, on the ec.europa.eu website.

G7 and anti-microbial resistance

The G7 meeting in October 2015 focussed on the topics of antimicrobial resistance and the fight against Ebola. The EU was praised for its ‘one-health’ approach.

For more information, click here on the German website www.bmg.bund.de

Bio-tech companies and drug-resistant bacteria

There is a feeling amongst small bio-tech companies that their skills are being overlooked in the initiatives being developed to confront the problem of drug-resistant bacteria. An alliance of 37 such companies across Europe have pledged to accelerate progress in dealing with this threat by bringing together expertise in the design and development of new antibiotics, the identification and implementation of preventative strategies against resistance and in the design of improved diagnostic technologies to facilitate more appropriate antibiotic treatment.

The BEAM Alliance says it will remain at the forefront of antibiotic drug, device and diagnostic discovery and development as a combined technical and scientific force across Europe. It also intends to stimulate research and development activities focused on combating antibiotic resistance and to promote new policies and regulation around the use and development of antimicrobial resistance strategies.

For more information, click here on http://beam-alliance.eu

Asylum seekers in the EU

EU member states granted protection to more than 185,000 asylum seekers in 2014, an increase of almost 50% compared with 2013. Since 2008, more than 750,000 asylum seekers have been granted protection status in the EU.

To download the publication, click here on http://ec.europa.eu

New EU rules on human tissues and cells increase patient safety

The Commission has adopted two sets of rules for human tissues and cells to protect patients in the EU by ensuring high quality and safety standards.

The first set of rules set out the technical requirements that will facilitate tracing of all tissues and cells between donor and recipient. This will happen through a so-called ‘Single European Code’ and a Commission-hosted IT-platform to ensure uniform labelling of all tissues and cells distributed in the EU. In the case of a safety alert, this label will ensure that all recipients who received material from the same donor can be traced and treated as needed. It will also allow for unused tissues or cells to be discarded.

The second directive covers imports and sets out procedures for ensuring that tissues and cells imported from third countries meet the same safety and quality standards as those procured, processed and distributed in the EU. These rules will ensure the safety of EU recipients in need of tissues and cells, regardless of the origin of the material.

For more information, click here on http://ec.europa.eu

Rare diseases

A disease or disorder is defined as rare in the EU when it affects less than five in every 10,000 citizens. However, because there are so many different rare diseases – between 6,000 and 8,000 – between 30 and 40 million people in the EU, many of whom are children, suffer from rare diseases.

Most rare diseases have genetic origins while others are the result of infections, allergies and environmental causes. They are usually chronically debilitating or even life-threatening. The fragmentation of knowledge about rare diseases and the small numbers of patients affected by a single disease makes it indispensable to work across borders. One of the greatest challenges for sufferers of rare diseases and their families is getting a timely and correct diagnosis. This is an essential first step before treatment options can be explored and the European Commission has developed a number of initiatives to help member states.

One of these is the ORPHANET project which has developed a database listing the descriptions of almost 6000 rare diseases and has become the number one online source of information on rare diseases worldwide. This tool is an invaluable resource for clinicians, health professionals and patients seeking a diagnosis. It is also establishing European Reference Networks (ERNs) to facilitate cooperation between Member States in the development of diagnosis and treatment capacity to provide highly specialised healthcare for rare or low prevalence complex diseases or conditions.

As a result, patients will have easier access to expertise on rare diseases beyond their national border. There will also be national contact points where patients can receive information on where to find the most appropriate treatment for their disease, anywhere across the EU.

For more information about the EU’s policies on rare diseases, click here on http://ec.europa.eu

Tracing animals and animal products across Europe

Each year, vast quantities of livestock and produce are traded into the EU to be served on 500 million European plates and the European Commission ensures both food and consumers are kept safe through TRACES (TRAde Control and Expert System).

This is a trans-European network which notifies, certifies and monitors imports, exports and trade in animals and animal products. Organisations all over the world can use this web-based network free of charge to trace animal and animal product movement.

Amongst other things, TRACES makes it possible to:

  •  Produce and exchange certificates, related to animals, animal products, by-products, semen and embryos, in 22 official EU languages
  •  Help authorities to take decisions for approval or rejection of the consignments presented
  •  Notify the authorities at origin and destination, of all stages in the journey plan made by the consignment
  •  Keep track of animal health, welfare and public veterinary health inspections on the consignment, carried out during transport or at destination
  •  React rapidly to possible health threats or epizootic risks by retracing the movements of the consignment
  • Obtain statistical information and reports on data inserted in TRACES
  • Speed up administrative procedures via its online interface
  • Speed up formalities at the border for products originating outside the EU

For more information, click here on http://ec.europa.eu

Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI)

The aim of this initiative is to forge stronger global collaboration on health security by addressing health threats from chemical, biological and radio/nuclear agents and by improving preparedness and responses to pandemics.

Health ministers and high level representatives from countries around the world meet regularly to take these issues forward and their last meeting focused particularly on the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The EU’s top priority, according to its representative at the meeting, is to help stop the epidemic in the affected countries through deployment of financial and human resources for health care, laboratories, contact tracing, community outreach and key infrastructure including sanitation.

The EU is also providing assistance to help to rebuild health systems in the long term.

Other specific topics within the GHSI’s wide range of activities include public health measures, sample sharing, management of global health threats, the deployment of medical countermeasures, the support to the recovery phase after an emergency and the building of resilience.

For more information on the EU’s work on health security, click here on www.ec.europa.eu

For more information on the GHSI, click here on www.ghsi.ca