Europe establishes animal disease centre

Related tags Epidemiology Eu

The European Parliament has voted to create a European Centre for
Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), following growing concern
over animal disease epidemics. "Outbreaks like SARS in 2003 and
bird flu this year have been a wake-up call," said David Byrne,
the European Commissioner for health and consumer protection.

Byrne believes that the new EU agency will enable Europe to be better prepared for future epidemics. Though the EU already has a system for the Europe-wide epidemiological surveillance of infectious diseases, co-operation on investigating and controlling disease is largely ad hoc.

For example, the small EU team sent to help the WHO investigate avian influenza in Vietnam is part of an EU project to train disease investigation experts. The EU expert group on SARS created during the outbreak in spring 2003 on the other hand was put together under the European Communicable Disease Network. According to Byrne, while these have been good short-term solutions, they are not sustainable in the long term.

The purpose of the ECDC is therefore to enable Europe to pool its disease control expertise more effectively, allowing EU disease outbreak investigation teams to be put together quickly and efficiently. The centre will ensure the results of their investigations are available to the public health authorities around the EU.

There is already a wealth of scientific expertise in the Member States' public health institutes. The ECDC will function to network this expertise and to facilitate coordination between the Member State institutes. According to Byrne, the core of this network is already in place - Europe's communicable disease network already links experts monitoring specific diseases or following specific issues such as antimicrobial resistance.

The ECDC will also assist the work on monitoring and preparedness planning against bioterrorist attacks that has been pursued by the EU's Health Security Task Force.

The formation of the ECDC can be seen as part of a larger trend towards consolidated action in identifying and fighting animal-borne diseases. Yesterday, we reported on the formation of the world's largest online database of information on how pathogenic bacteria respond to different environmental conditions in food.

This has been established by scientists with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service and the United Kingdom's Institute of Food Research. The database, called ComBase, is designed to help make risk assessments and model development easier.

By combining their efforts through the establishment of ComBase, both the ARS and IFR hope to make a large body of information accessible to as many food researchers and scientists as possible. Scientists can use the database to enter data such as the temperature, acidity and available water, and then retrieve all records that match the search criteria.

Preparatory work on the creation of the ECDC will start later this year. A management board, composed of Member State, Commission and European Parliament representatives, will need to be established and the search for a Director of the agency begun. The centre is on course to become operational in 2005.

The European Council in Brussels decided last December that the ECDC will be based in Sweden. A decision on which town it will be located in is expected soon.

Related topics Food safety and labeling

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