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15th May 2021

Europe bird flu plans full of holes, study says

  • "No plan stands out as being much better than the others" (Photo: European Community, 2006)

European countries need to work together more to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic, a new study warns.

The report, 'How prepared is Europe for Pandemic Influenza? An analysis of national plans', issued by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and presented in magazine Lancet on Thursday (20 April), reveals major discrepancies in planning in pandemic preparedness across Europe.

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"Wide gaps exist in the pandemic preparedness of European nations," Dr Richard Coker, the report's lead author said, stressing that the EU must initiate a more co-ordinated approach to tackling a pandemic of the lethal bird flu strain.

"With the ongoing spread of the H5N1 avian influenza virus in birds and the impending threat of a pandemic, European nations need to work together to adequately prepare for the onset of such a pandemic," Mr Coker added.

Researchers in London have rated the readiness of 17 EU countries as well as Bulgaria, Norway, Romania and Switzerland, in planning and coordination, public health interventions, maintenance of essential services, communication and putting plans into action.

The countries' plans varied widely in their assumptions of how many people would be infected by avian influenza, how many would need hospital treatment and how many would die.

Estimated hospital admission rates range from 40 to 2,707 per 100,000 population, while estimated death rates vary from 14 to 1,685 per 100,000.

Only seven of the 21 listed countries know how to distribute medicines on a large scale, and in some of the countries the pile of anti-viral is enough for only two percent of the population.

France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden topped the list, fulfilling over 70 percent of the criteria, while the Czech Republic, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Poland and Portugal were the least prepared of the countries.

Few countries' plans addressed the need to collaborate with neighbouring countries.

"All countries, even those in the top group, have significant gaps, and these vary from country to country," said Mr Coker.

"No plan stands out as being much better than the others."

Slovenia, Hungary, Finland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta, Bulgaria and Cyprus were not included in the study as not enough data was available.

Responding to the report, the European Commission on Wednesday said that European countries had in general since the time of data collection for the study - six months ago - improved preparedness for the pandemic.

"A lot has been done since the study, including a Europe-wide exercise, and those lessons learned are being discussed and acted on,'' a commission spokesperson said, according to Bloomberg agency.

The lethal H5N1 virus has so far been found in twelve EU member states: Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Denmark, Poland and Slovenia.

Since 2003, the H5N1 strain has killed worldwide more than 100 people who have been in close contact with infected birds, mainly in Asia.

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