The COVID-19 pandemic, which accelerated in Europe in February-March 2020, has affected all countries involved in the SHARP JA, and the crisis is still ongoing. Many SHARP partners have had to prioritise national response activities and involvement in crucial operational networks over preparedness planning and other activities within SHARP.
The pandemic has switched the national and EU-wide focus from preparedness to response, and this has naturally been reflected in all SHARP JA activities. For example, WP7 (Laboratory preparedness) and WP10 (Clinical management) were activated by the European Commission in early 2020 for COVID-19 response.
Although all SHARP activities, milestones and deliverables cannot be fully implemented as originally planned, the periodic report published in early 2021 highlights the progress made in the midst of a global pandemic. In this article, we list just a few examples.
“The pandemic has clearly shown that EU-wide preparedness and response to unknown health threats needs to be strengthened and must be seen as paramount. Joint Actions, such as SHARP JA will be crucially needed in the future as well”, says Anna Katz, Project Manager at Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) which coordinates SHARP JA.
Lessons learned on COVID-19 and other milestones reached
WP4 (Integration in National Policies and Sustainability) submitted a draft guidance tool on sustainability to the European Commission. The tool will be tested in practice and developed further according to the results.
WP5 (IHR core capacity strengthening and assessment) organized a workshop in which 45 professionals representing 15 countries shared insight on their country’s IHR implementation, current challenges and future work. The next workshop, focusing on Risk Communication in response to will take place on 22March 2021. This follows the identification of Risk Communications as a core competency that needed strengthening.
WP6 (Preparedness and Response planning) organized a workshop on multi-sectoral collaboration and completed a literature review on tools and instruments for preparedness and response, focusing on multi-sectoral collaboration. WP6 is also gathering lessons learned from COVID-19 . For example, in early 2021, WP6 plan to interview professionals in several countries across the EU to understand the factors that contribute to the similarities and differences in testing strategies across Europe.
WP7 (Laboratory preparedness and responsiveness) organized the first External Quality Assurance Exercise (EQAE) in 2020, to assess European laboratory capacities for diagnostics of highly pathogenic bacteria and viruses. The next EQAE is planned for April–June 2021. A SARS-CoV-2 specific sequencing protocol was set up and used for rapid informed public health decision-making in the Netherlands as well as to investigate several outbreaks, including an example outbreak on mink farms.
WP8 (Training and local exercises, exchange of working practices) conducted a cross-sectoral training needs assessment and inventory of existing IHR-related training activities and materials. Curriculum of basic IHR training was developed, and the first session of online basic training was held in 2020 with 54 participants.
WP9 (Chemical safety and chemical threats) developed a questionnaire to assess IHR capacities with regard to chemicals. The questionnaire also explores current and required chemical laboratory networks.
WP10 (Case management and infection prevention and control preparedness) has been working on mapping of existing facilities and assessment of hospital preparedness for high-consequence infectious diseases. In March 2020, WP10, in collaboration with DG SANTE, also developed a COVID-19 survey with questionnaires on Clinical management, Post-exposure prophylaxis and Discharge policy.
Through the Joint Action, the member and partner states’ and the Union’s common ability to prevent, detect and respond to biological outbreaks, chemical contamination and environmental and unknown threats to human health will be strengthened. In total, 30 countries participate in the Joint Action, which started its actions in summer 2019 and will continue until 2022.
Read more on each Work Package: https://www.sharpja.eu/about-us/work-packages/