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European Medical Corps: Better preparedness for the next epidemic

16.02.2016 - Article

The European Medical Corps, a team of experts intended to combat potential future epidemics, was launched in Brussels on Monday (15 February). The Franco‑German initiative is a response to the devastating Ebola crisis of 2014. At the launch event, Foreign Minister Steinmeier warned that, “We cannot allow the next health crisis to find us as underprepared.”

The two men who initiated the project, Foreign Minister Steinmeier and his French opposite number at the time, Laurent Fabius (file photo)
The two men who initiated the project, Foreign Minister Steinmeier and his French opposite number at the time, Laurent Fabius (file photo)© Photothek

Maintaining capabilities and responding rapidly

Memories of the terrible images from the areas reached by the epidemic in West Africa are still vivid. The deadly virus spread swiftly in several countries across the region, and infected air travellers brought it to Europe too. “Ebola showed how important it is to be prepared. That involves maintaining capabilities and above all responding rapidly,” Foreign Minister Steinmeier said in Brussels.

Franco-German initiative

On the back of that experience, he and the then French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, sowed the seeds of what they called the “EU White Helmets initiative”, which has now come to fruition in the form of the European Medical Corps. This civil protection instrument for global health crises is anchored in the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Directorate‑General of the European Commission (ECHO). Germany is involved with substantial contributions, including a German Red Cross isolation hospital for highly infectious patients, laboratory capacity supplied by the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine and logistical support from the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW).

Steinmeier at the event launching the European Medical Corps
Steinmeier at the event launching the European Medical Corps© EU ECHO

Europe’s capacity for effective response

Belgium, Finland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and the Czech Republic are involved in the project alongside Germany and France. Foreign Steinmeier sincerely thanked those countries for their commitment: “This demonstrates that the EU has the capacity to respond effectively even in complex and difficult situations.” Steinmeier also called on the other member states to take part in the project, saying it would be an important sign of solidarity within the EU.

Zika virus highlights urgency

Also at the launch event, Margaret Chan, Director‑General of the World Health Organization (WHO), thanked Germany and France for their initiative and called it an important contribution to health crisis preparedness worldwide. The European Medical Corps is now part of the Global Health Emergency Workforce currently run under the aegis of the WHO. Chan pointed out that the Zika virus was demonstrating once again how crucial global preparedness is.

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Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the official launch of the European Medical Corps

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