EU launches emergency medical corps in wake of Ebola outbreak

The European Union launched an emergency medical corps Monday to respond to future disease outbreaks, after struggling to react quickly to the Ebola crisis that began in late 2013.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,300 people and infected 28,500, according to the World Health Organization, as it spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

The EU ran into difficulties in responding to the haemorrhagic fever, with various logistical challenges hampering its effort to deliver help to the countries most in need. Mobilizing medical teams to help in the frontline fight against Ebola was especially hard to come by.

As a result, Germany and France proposed the establishment of "white helmets," medical experts and healthcare workers to respond to disease outbreaks. This laid the groundwork for the EU programme unveiled Monday.

"We were too late for the 11,000 women, men and children who fell victim to the epidemic ... We cannot bring the victims back to life, but we can prevent that such a catastrophe reoccurs," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at a launch event in Brussels.

"The world must never again be caught by surprise ... The world should never be so ill-prepared to cope with big crises," added the chief of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan. "We will never allow another virus to run out of control."

The European Medical Corps will deliver "a much faster and more efficient EU response" to health crises, EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said.

It will include emergency medical and public health teams, mobile biosafety laboratories, evacuation capacities, medical assessment experts and logistical support teams, according to the European Commission.

The teams can be mobilized for "any type of emergency with health consequences, at short notice," it said in a statement. Member states can opt out of individual deployments.

So far, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands have contributed teams and equipment to the voluntary programme.

Stylianides, Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault all called for other countries to join the medical corps.

The Zika outbreak in the Americas is a "reminder" that more epidemics will follow Ebola, Stylianides said.

"Climate change, population growth and urbanization mean that diseases will spread further," he said. "They will also spread faster."

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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