Reinforcing Success: ECDC as a Central Point of the New European Health Union

30 April 2021

Richard Price, EU Affairs Policy Manager, European Cancer Organisation

With COVID-19 vaccination campaigns continuing apace now across Europe, attention to the rebuild ahead is growing. Indeed, our ‘Time to Act’ campaign responds in part to this, seeking, among other objectives, to help stimulate some deeper thinking by policymakers on new ways to do cancer care better in the future.

For this reason, it was widely welcomed by the Brussels-based health advocacy community, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently announced to the European People’s Party that she was open to fundamental reform of the Treaty of the EU to enable the EU’s legal authority in the area of health to be improved. This was one of the key calls with which we closed our COVID-19 network paper The Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer in Europe:The 7-Point Plan to Address the Urgency and Build Back Better. The pandemic has radically altered the political debate at the EU level. Suddenly, what seemed diplomatically unfeasible 18 months ago, is now high on the agenda for debate and potential enactment. The moment should not be lost.

Another key ask articulated by our special network on the impact of COVID-19 and cancer has been for recognition to be made of the valuable role of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in meeting the EU’s common health challenges, including, but not limited to, pandemics and infectious disease control. The Agency has had a ‘good crisis’, deftly responding to urgent needs, bringing together powerful near-real-time data on matters such as new reported cases and deaths, hospital and ICU admission rates, variant spread, country response measures and vaccination rates. The Agency has assisted immeasurably in guiding EU and national responses with such data, and created much needed transparency for those reporting on the crisis, researchers, and the public at large. The Agency, beyond doubt, has shown its worth.

It is in this context that the European Cancer Organisation was pleased this week to cooperate with fellow non-governmental organisations across the disease spectrum, via the European Chronic Disease Alliance, in writing to national Governments, urging the expansion of the mandate of the ECDC to other areas of public health that are linked to the current mission of the Centre. Notably, to cover the interconnections between communicable and non-communicable diseases. This relationship has been further exemplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, with people with pre‐existing chronic diseases being at higher risk of death or severe complications from the virus. More on our joint call here.

Our HPV Action Network has also been much impressed with the work of ECDC. In viewing how helpful its collection and presentation of data on COVID-19 vaccination has been, the Network sees a particular role for the Agency in supporting the achievement of the new EU goal of eliminating HPV associated cancers. A similar country-by-country tracking of where we are on the collective effort to vaccinate against this preventable set of cancers would be a significant fillip to the implementation effort, and one our Network urge be grasped. More information here.

Success should be reinforced. What’s more, it should also be pointed to and remarked upon. We live in a news environment where it is often in vogue to focus on the areas where the EU may have not met citizen aspirations. Scrutiny is, of course, vital to the process of improvement. However, in the case of the work of agencies such as ECDC, we would also do well to promote attention to where the benefit of EU cooperation and organisation has delivered beyond dispute.