Two new reports provide health protection experts and policymakers with some new insight and valuable direction

SHARP Joint Action publishes two new reports today providing health protection experts and policymakers with some new thinking and valuable direction on cross-border collaboration during crises; plus insight on how IHR core capacities in low GNI member states have improved in recent years.

The deliverable, International collaboration between authorities during crisis report, authored by experts from the Norwegian Directorate of Health (HD) – Helsedirektoratet, proposes a framework for collaboration between health authorities during crises.

This timely publication will also support countries to meet the on-going requirements of the EU cross-border threats to health legislation. For coherence with the EU-level ‘prevention, preparedness and response plan’, the regulation demands member states liaise with each other when drawing up their national plans.  A key element of such inter-state liaison is the operationalisation of obligations related to responses from health systems, cross-sectoral efforts and effective assistance between member states when needed.

An all-hazards template agreement on cross-border multisectoral support should be made available for European countries

A rigorous approach captured the key challenges experienced by SHARP Joint Action partner countries in national and international collaboration between governments and authorities during health crises.  Drawing on the existing, proven Nordic Public Health Preparedness Agreement for cooperating in providing healthcare and social welfare in the case of emergencies or disasters, this insight on the various factors was then used to refine a proposed template agreement of intention.  If adopted, it could facilitate the process of inter-state collaboration in preparedness and response planning at the regional, and subsequently EU level. All in line with fulfilling obligations under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005).

To maintain and further develop the proposed agreement of intention, the report recommends the establishment of a co-operative body composed of authorities of the participating countries. Using the template as a guide, the main obstacles to effective cross-border collaboration would be identified and resolved to arrive at detailed operational plans to best respond to emergencies.

IHR core capacities strengthened in focus countries over the course of the Joint Action

Also published today, is the IHR Core Capacity Strengthening and Assessment report which looks at the knowledge, practices and added value of strengthening of selected core capacities in the EU and neighbouring countries.

This summarises activities of Work Package 5 Task 5.1 workstream aimed to improve IHR implementation in twelve focus (low GNI) countries by strengthening selected core capacities via annual workshops and corresponding work between them. The focus countries were Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia and Spain.

Led by the Public Health Agency of Sweden (FOHM), the bulk of the work was done between the annual workshops that gathered participants from the different countries to share barriers, plans for improvements and perspectives. The experience was enhanced by representation from ECDC, WHO EURO and DG SANTE.

Qualitative analysis concludes that IHR core capacities did strengthen in the focus countries whilst managing the pandemic  – particularly in the areas of laboratory capacity, surveillance, and risk communication. Comparison of 2019 to 2022 SPAR reports supports this experience. 

Increases in core capacities:

  • Real Time Surveillance from a 70% to 82%
  • National Laboratory System from 73.4% to 74%
  • Risk Communication from 56% to 63%
  • Chemical events 58% to 67%

As the pandemic occurred during the Joint Action, improvements in IHR core capacities were understandably catalysed by the management of COVID-19. However, the Joint Action could be viewed as delivering European added value during those challenging times. The WP5 task 5.1 activities prompted participating countries to continuously re-visit and re-assess preparedness challenges through bilateral interviews and workshops. The opportunities to learn from other countries provided ideas and examples on how to progress further; and expanded the participants’ network of public health preparedness professionals which may facilitate further collaborations – an important tool for disseminating insight and knowledge gain to all member states.

Work package 5 contributes to EU actions to improve health security

The work reported in both deliverables demonstrates the significance of SHARP JA activities for the EU Health Union vision. Practical experiences shared by SHARP partners concerning challenges in cross-border collaboration are partly addressed by recent additions to the European Health Security infrastructure. The serious cross-border threats to health regulation (SCBTH) focuses on areas that are also at the heart of work package 5: capacity building of professionals and improved cooperation and coordination. Read more about the relevance of SHARP JA to the EU Health Union.

These reports are part Work Package 5 of SHARP JA, which works to improve IHR core capacities EU Member States as required by International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) and Decision 1082/2013/EU, with a special emphasis on focus countries involved in the Joint Action. Read more about work package 5.

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