The EPH Conference was attended by a record number of over 2,500 delegates attending from over 80 countries worldwide.
The SHARP Joint Action lunch symposium, “SHARP Joint Action – strengthening capacity in preparing for the unexpected”, at the European Public Health Conference (EPHC) in Berlin on the 11 November 2022 presented the latest results of three work packages aligning with the new legislative framework for EU Health Security.
The symposium was chaired by Professor Mika Salminen from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, which coordinates the project. Salminen highlighted the relevance of the Joint Action’s work to the extraordinary events of the previous three years. He also drew attention to the pandemic’s effect on the project, with many of the experts delivering the work packages being reassigned to their countries’ COVID-19 response.
Around 50 people attended the symposium in person in Berlin. The EPHC provided a refreshing post-pandemic opportunity to come together and meet colleagues from amongst the 61 partners across the EU and Europe, and to showcase results in strengthening EU-level capacity in responding to cross-border health threats.
Outi Karvonen, from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, introduced the Joint Action’s aims, partners and an overview of the work packages not presented on the day.
Insights to enhance crisis preparedness and IHR implementation
Sara Bengtsson, from the Public Health Agency of Sweden (work package 5 lead) and Mari Nythun Utheim, from the co-lead Norwegian Institute of Public Health presented a review of EU-level preparedness exercises and their value in preparedness and response planning. Analysis carried out by WP5 found that simulation exercises (SimEx) and after-action reviews (AAR) bring out valuable insight and should be used more widely in preparedness planning to evaluate how mechanisms work.
“Weaknesses in the system can be identified in peace time, during an exercise. What doesn’t seem to happen is the formalised mitigation of the risks identified during an exercise”, Utheim emphasized.
Bettie Voordouw, from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) – work package 6 lead institute, focused her presentation on multisectoral collaboration during public health emergencies and demonstrated key sectors necessary to involve in pandemic preparedness, response and recovery phases.
WP6 is continuing this work and hopes to create a reference framework for enhancing plans in the future. Member states are encouraged to send in their national or subnational health emergency preparedness and response plans. An analysis of these plans will identify missing sectors which can improve future planning and enhance preparedness to serious-cross border health threats.
If member states would like to benefit from this work, plans should be emailed by 30 December 2022 to email@example.com.
Janina Schäfer from the work package 8 co-lead, the Robert Koch Institute, discussed how the International Health Regulations (IHR) implementation can be strengthened through cross-sectoral training. She explained the basic online training modules targeted at people working in sectors and positions relevant to IHR core capacities. Over 90 people have benefited from the trainings delivered between June 2020 and March 2022. Schäfer equally mentioned the trainings on simulation exercises and intra- and after-action reviews that have been conducted during the Joint Action.
Schäfer emphasized how the trainings reinforced the current material from WHO and ECDC by introducing collegial exchange of experiences and good practices as well as the opportunity for hands-on practice. These aspects were particularly important as they had been lacking during the pandemic.
Also at the conference, Work Package 8 lead, the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut” presented a poster on the results of a study into strengths and weaknesses in the IHR (2005) implementation in low GNI countries. These results point the way forward in terms of focus areas for capacity building and development.