12 March 2020
The European public health community is at the forefront of the battle against the outbreak of COVID-19, which yesterday was declared to be a pandemic by the World Health Organization. As Europe’s leading NGO alliance bringing together public health NGOs, as well as patient groups, health professionals and representatives of disease-specific and population groups (such as older persons) at particular risk, the European Public Health Alliance calls upon the European institutions and national governments to continue to work together to follow the advice of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, to build “a comprehensive strategy to prevent infections, save lives and minimize impact.”
While recognising that EU Member States are primarily responsible for the health of their citizens – and Dr Tedros’ statement highlights the actions governments can take to change the course of the pandemic – EU cooperation and coordination is vital to address serious cross-border threats to public health such as COVID-19, and indeed it is mandated to do so by Article 168 TFEU.
The need for strong European action to tackle the flaws in our health systems and support our health workforce have been highlighted by different countries’ ability to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak as effectively as others. In the short-term, we call on the European Commission and EU governments to show solidarity with each other to ensure that medicines, protective and medical equipment and expertise is available where it is most needed; in the long-term, there must be action to ensure that all Europeans are able to access a minimum level of healthcare and a “Health in all Policies” approach to public health which takes into account the consequences of public policy on health systems, the determinants of health, health inequalities and well-being.
Strong European cooperation can also ensure a coordinated response, in the public interest, to the development of the vaccines and medical treatments which will ultimately provide the long-term solution to tackling the outbreak.
COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for a long-term EU strategy to address Europe’s invisible epidemic of non-communicable diseases, and measures to tackle air pollution; as patients suffering from conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, or respiratory diseases have proved to be particularly vulnerable to the outbreak.
Finally, we urge everyone to follow the updates by the World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and their national public health authorities on how to protect themselves and others, to support our EPHA members on the frontline in tackling this urgent global health crisis.