Wednesday, May 15, 2013

EU Viral Pandemic Risk

by Jerry Vassalla

In February, perhaps the world’s most famous virologist, Nathan Wolfe, visited Champaign-Urbana to share a small snippet of his knowledge on the subject of pandemics. Dr.  Wolfe was featured in the 2011 class of Time 100, meaning that Time magazine considered him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He stated that the 21st century is a new era in technology as well as global interaction and therefore there are threats of new viruses emerging.  In order to understand what he means, you just need to look at the HIV virus. It materialized sometime before the Great Depression but wasn’t identified until about 60 years later. Dr. Wolfe declared that the world must take a pro-active approach in combatting such viruses before they become problems, rather than react to the spread of a pandemic. Is this a threat for the European Union? How has the European Union been preparing to deal with the possible emergence of such threats?

First off, the European Union does face the threat of such pandemics even though their origin may be nestled in the jungles of a far off country.

The map above shows just how easily a local pandemic can become a worldwide issue. It shows the number of cases of H1N1 as of September 2009 worldwide. The next map (below) shows that, in less than a year, the number of cases of H1N1 in Europe increased relatively dramatically.

If that wasn’t enough for the EU to be concerned, the emergence of such threats also poses food security issues in a global world. 

So, what is the European Union doing? The EU has dedicated substantial amounts of money to funding research on avian and pandemic influenza, even before the outbreak mentioned above. The EU spent 6 million Euros in the late 90’s/early 2000’s and more than tripled the amount in 2006 to 20 million Euros. Good for the EU, but if you think about it, 20 million Euros is a paltry sum for the EU. The EU’s budget in 2006 was over 106 billion Euros which makes the contribution less than .1% of the budget. Not only that, but member states such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom are among the world’s most advanced countries. If the support from these technologically and economically wealthy states is missing, then there is much less hope for the rest of the world. 

That being said, the European Union does have certain policies to combat major health threats. You can see the EU’s attempt to inform and lessen the fears of its citizens in the case of influenza pandemic in this 2006 flyer: The “European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control” is charged with addressing international health issues, specifically pandemics. In addition, according to an article in the Functioning of the European Union, each country has been required to design their own plan to manage and respond to pandemic health issues. The EU is also cooperating with the Global Health Security Initiative, a group of countries that communicate and cooperate on issues of international health affecting security. 

It would seem that the European Union’s member states are prepared in the case of a dangerous outbreak. They have plans and procedures in place to help stop the spread of an outbreak. In contrast, as a global leader in politics and prosperity, the EU can do more to promote scholarly research on the topic. The EU did just that earlier in 2013 with the announcement of an initiative to fund rare disease research.  

Jerry Vassalla is a second year MAEUS student. He majored in Spanish and International Studies as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Jerry spent time during the fall of 2010 volunteering at an Urbana based refugee center. During summer 2011, he studied Turkish in Antalya, Turkey on a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship. Jerry spent the 2011-2012 academic year in Germany on a Fulbright Grant as an English Teaching Assistant. His research interests include EU accession, the factors influencing the identities of minority groups within the EU (especially language), immigration rights in Germany and Turkish foreign policy. As non-academic hobbies, he commishes and plays fantasy football. He enjoys cooking and considers himself something of a BBQ Sauce connoisseur.

Source for images:
"Fatal Cases," European Center for Disease Prevention and Control:



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