Preparedness and response against diseases with epidemic potential in the European Union: a qualitative case study of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and poliomyelitis in five member states.

BMC Health Serv Res 2018 07 6;18(1):528. Epub 2018 Jul 6.

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Granits väg 8, 171 65, Solna, Sweden.

Background: EU Decision 1082/2013/EU on serious cross-border health threats provides a legal basis for collaboration between EU Member States, and between international and European level institutions on preparedness, prevention, and mitigation in the event of a public health emergency. The Decision provides a context for the present study, which aims to identify good practices and lessons learned in preparedness and response to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) (in UK, Greece, and Spain) and poliomyelitis (in Poland and Cyprus).

Methods: Based on a documentary review, followed by five week-long country visits involving a total of 61 interviews and group discussions with experts from both the health and non-health sectors, this qualitative case study has investigated six issues related to preparedness and response to MERS and poliomyelitis: national plans and overall preparedness capacity; training and exercises; risk communication; linking policy and implementation; interoperability between the health and non-health sectors; and cross-border collaboration.

Results: Preparedness and response plans for MERS and poliomyelitis were in place in the participating countries, with a high level of technical expertise available to implement them. Nevertheless, formal evaluation of the responses to previous public health emergencies have sometimes been limited, so lessons learned may not be reflected in updated plans, thereby risking mistakes being repeated in future. The nature and extent of inter-sectoral collaboration varied according to the sectors involved, with those sectors that have traditionally had good collaboration (e.g. animal health and food safety), as well as those that have a financial incentive for controlling infectious diseases (e.g. agriculture, tourism, and air travel) seen as most likely to have integrated public health preparedness and response plans. Although the formal protocols for inter-sectoral collaboration were not always up to date, good personal relations were reported within the relevant professional networks, which could be brought into play in the event of a public health emergency. Cross-border collaboration was greatly facilitated if the neighbouring country was a fellow EU Member State.

Conclusions: Infectious disease outbreaks remain as an ongoing threat. Efforts are required to ensure that core public health capacities for the full range of preparedness and response activities are sustained.

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July 2018
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