EU sets up medical corps after Ebola, Zika outbreaks

Christos Stylianides in Nepal. [European Commission]

The EU wants to quickly respond to health emergencies,  such as the Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks in the future with a new medical corps, the European Commission said on Monday (15 February).

The Commission has recognised that the EU’s response to the Ebola crisis was too slow, especially when it came to deploying medical staff and managing logistical challenges.

Therefore, the executive and some member states are launching a medical corps that can mobilise staff and emergencies both inside and outside of the EU.

The medical corps would have its own public health and medical coordination experts, mobile biosafety laboratories, medical evacuation planes and logistical support teams in order to ensure a faster and more predictable response.

“The aim of the European Medical Corps is to create a much faster and more efficient EU response to health crises when they occur,” said Commissioner Christos Stylianides, responsible for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management.

“We need to learn the lessons from the Ebola response; a key difficulty was mobilising medical teams,” he added.

Participation in the new medical corps is voluntary for EU member states, as well as for other countries, and would be part of the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism framework, under the new European Emergency Response Capacity.

So far, only nine member states have expressed willingness to join, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands.

A month ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) finally declared West Africa free of the Ebola virus, a deadly disease which spread in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between March 2014 and November 2015 and killed more than 10,000 people.

Recently, the spread of the Zika virus in the Americas led the Commission to allocate €10 million from the EU budget while the European Medicines Agency (EMA) set up its own task force to advice European companies that are working on developing a vaccine.

Scientists prepare for potential Zika virus outbreak in Southern Europe

Researchers from the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) are developing tools to monitor the Zika virus, as it is highly likely that it will reach Southern Europe, according to the group.

Scientists fear that up to four million people could be infected by the virus in Latin America 2016, which spreads through the Aedes aegypti mosquito and possible also through blood transfusions.

They are also increasingly worried that the Zika virus will enter Europe via Southern European countries such as Italy, Spain and France or could pose a risk for attendees at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on 1 February formally declared the Zika virus a global emergency. Labeling the virus an international health threat is meant to increase the chances of getting it under control with the help of the WHO's expertise, personnel and resources.

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