On January 29-30, the first SHARP Joint Action workshop of 2020 took place in Riga, Latvia. Over 45 persons representing 15 countries partook in the workshop comprised of a series of plenaries and panels followed by moderated round table discussions. This provided an ideal forum for intense discussion on IHR core capacity improvement in Europe, which was certainly punctuated by the climate of the emerging novel coronavirus outbreak.
Both Anders Wallensten, Public Health Agency of Sweden (FOHM), and Indra Linina, State Emergency Medical Service of Latvia (SEMS), welcomed the partners, collaborating partners and stakeholders to the historic city of Riga, set on the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the River Daugava.
SHARP work package 5 works to improve core capacities in EU Member States by improving International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) implementation, and developing international collaboration between authorities in a crisis.
The group discussed perspectives and approaches on a variety of topics including Risk Communication, and preparedness in response to chemical incidents. The workshop was framed in consideration of the Joint External Evaluation (JEE) process and requirements which was bolstered by a number of participants’ direct experience of completing a JEE in their respective countries.
“It was very useful for all of the participating partners to come together to share knowledge and practices, especially with the added value of external evaluation processes. We hope that this first workshop helped to shape the thoughts of the attendees in planning for the further strengthening of selected core capacities in their countries,” said Anders Wallensten, FOHM.
Representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO-EURO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – Tanja Schmidt and Massimo Ciotti also participated in the workshop, providing invaluable insight into their experience with IHR and preparedness.
Key observations determined by the responses of various partners included; recognition that in regards to AMR (animal human interface) cross-sectoral collaboration is of pivotal importance for strengthening this IHR area. It was also established that, for those who have undergone a JEE, although in practice the process itself was challenging, it proved a valuable asset in driving progress in some of the IHR areas. Lastly, partners noted that countries in the work package are not starting from scratch; indicating that improvements have been made in recent years within the workshop’s four IHR themes, but they also emphasised that continuous efforts are still needed to strengthen core capacities.
In addition, the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, provided a timely example on how important the work of SHARP Joint Action is in working to improve preparedness on an EU Level in a collaborative way. In particular, the workshop provided an opportunity to share different practices in different countries and how these could be used to not only strengthen the capacity of individual countries, but also of Europe as a whole.
“Recent events and our workshop were useful in highlighting both challenges and opportunities in national and international collaboration between governments and national authorities. We all need to continue to develop operational responses across sectors nationally and between countries; and we look forward to continuing our work improving IHR core capacity across Europe and to the next IHR strengthening workshop in 2021,” says Indra Linina, SEMS.