NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

European Public Health System Unprepared for Bioterrorism

October 16, 2001

Unlike the United States, which has a central surveillance system run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Europe has opted for a decentralized health monitoring system. Experts complain the system complicates coordination among 15 separate health authorities.

  • To fight infectious diseases, the European Union's 15 members rely heavily on a loose surveillance network that links their public health authorities.
  • Health officials meet frequently and share data about peculiar or unexpected outbreaks.
  • The EU has adopted a single training program for rapid responses to emergencies.
  • A frequently updated EU Web site serves as a clearing house for data for infectious diseases across Europe.

Still, there are said to be significant holes in the safety net. A study just published in the British Medical Journal says Europe's recent history in handling infectious diseases may not bode well for its ability to deal with a bioterrorist attack.

Some countries are better at detecting diseases than others -- which weakens the entire system. Information about new outbreaks isn't always passed on to other countries.

While some countries have standing plans to fight highly contagious diseases, others don't. This gap also undermines public health in all countries.

Source: Gautam Naik, "Europe Is Poorly Prepared for Germ Attack, Study Says," Wall Street Journal, October 16, 2001; based on Laura MacLehose et al., "Communicable disease outbreaks involving more than one country: systems approach to evaluating the response," British Medical Journal, October 13, 2001.

For WSJ text


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