Pandemic preparedness research project presents recommendations to European Commission

BRUSSELS, March 15 2017  — The European Union-funded pandemic preparedness project, Pandemic Risk and Emergency Management (PANDEM), has completed its research phase and produced a final report, identifying current needs and recommending clear innovative steps to the European Commission. The 18-month project was funded through the EU Horizon 2020 programme of research and innovation, to help improve pandemic preparedness across the 28 European Union member states and beyond.

At a final conference held in Brussels on March 15 with more than 90 representatives from regional and international organisations, together with a wide range of stakeholders, the consortium presented the main conclusions of its work and related recommendations to the Commission.

Based on the completed research phase, and needs identified to date, the consortium recommended that the Commission should move on to a demonstration project to further explore innovative solutions across three strands:

  1. Governance, Planning and Communications
  2. Situational Awareness and Decision Support
  3.  Workforce Capacity, Training and Networking

These three strands are mutually reinforcing, and in many cases the solutions proposed are closely linked. They include targeted research to advance knowledge and practice in key areas, to leverage new information technologies, and make best use of evolving training, learning and knowledge sharing methodologies.

The PANDEM final conference is organized back-to-back with a meeting of DG HOME’s Community of Users for Safe, Secure and Resilient societies, which brings the recommendations and proposed next steps to more than 1,000 members of the Community of Users in crisis management, security and related fields.

“The timing and origin of the next pandemic is uncertain, but improved preparedness and response can minimize the impact on human lives and health, and the disruption to economies and societies that results,” said Professor Máire Connolly of the National University of Ireland in Galway, coordinator of the PANDEM project. “By making best use of the tools we have available, we can help to ensure that Europe and the wider world are better prepared to detect early and limit as much as possible the impact of future pandemics.”

The objectives of the PANDEM project were to review and assess current best practice in pandemic preparedness and response tools, systems and practice at national, EU and global levels. The project was also asked to identify major gaps, improvement needs and priority research questions, as well as potential solutions for improved technologies, systems and capacity to match. These proposals aim to build the foundations for a multi-disciplinary, inter-sectoral network of experts, and contribute to the reduction of health, socio-economic and security consequences of future pandemics through improved preparedness at regional, national, EU and global level.

From the beginning of the project, there has been a particular focus on enhancing the capacity of EU Member States to collaborate on cross border risk assessment, response and recovery. An initial expert workshop was held in February 2016, to identify best practice and define improvement needs for strengthening pandemic surveillance, communications and governance. The consortium then conducted an integrated gap analysis and solution specification that was reviewed during a second workshop, in September 2016. Since then, the consortium has worked to bring together concrete recommendations from the workshops with research results and produce a set of potential solutions.

Continuing the interdisciplinary approach taken throughout the project, the PANDEM consortium also invited a variety of policy-makers from Directorates-General of the Commission and European Agencies, and experts to provide feedback on our final roadmap and plan for a phase II demonstration project.

Throughout history, pandemics have had a major impact on the health and security of human populations. An outbreak of plague killed one third of Europe’s population in the Middle Ages, and Spanish flu killed 40-50 million people in the early 20th century. In 2003, a novel disease called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) emerged in China and spread from Hong Kong through international transport hubs to multiple countries within days causing major disruption and causing estimated economic damage of US$80 billion. The most recent H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 spread around the world in weeks, affecting all countries with significant health, economic, political, social, cultural and environmental consequences. More recently, outbreaks of Zika virus, Ebola and MERS-CoV have posed major threats to human health, and to global trade and trust.