Health forum warns of weak pandemic prevention plans

October 9, 2006

Brussels, 06 Oct 2006

Participants at the European Health Forum Gastein have heard of calls for improved pandemic prevention strategies and more research into rheumatic diseases. The ninth edition of the forum attracted nearly 600 delegates, and came just a few days after the European Commission published a memorandum on the planned EU Health Directive, intended to enhance cross-border cooperation in the health care industry.

One year after avian flu reached European countries and caused some panic, plans are now in place to prevent and battle pandemics - but not enough, according to experts.

At the Health Forum, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine presented the results of a study, which has highlighted several weaknesses:
- a lack of coordination between human medical and veterinary measures;
- international cooperation is often 'mere talk';
- unsuitable strategies for containing potential pandemics;
- vaguely formulated crisis plans.

Pandemic prevention only works if all countries pull together, as highlighted by Health Forum President Günther Leiner: 'It doesn't help if individual countries initiate perfect defensive measures when others are remiss. Even if only a few countries fail to implement adequate measures, then there is a gateway for pandemics to enter Europe, which is ultimately a danger for every other country as well. Thus, it is a European responsibility to see to it that maximum security is created everywhere on a national level. If this is not done, we're ultimately playing with the lives of citizens,' he said.

A number of participants also called for more of a focus on rheumatic diseases. Attendees criticised the view that mortality is the principal criterion for the gravity of a disease. Economic costs and social burdens should also be considered when defining policy priorities, said participants at one workshop.

More research is needed to increase understanding of the causes of rheumatic diseases, as well as to find cures and develop better treatments. 'Improving pan-European collaborative research is one of the main challenges for rheumatology research,' said Josef Smolen, Professor of International Medicine at Vienna General Hospital. 'The major burden of rheumatic diseases should be mirrored in higher European Union support for pan-European collaboration in this field.'

For further information on the European Health Forum Gastein, please visit:

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