Coming soon: a European Centre for Disease Control of some kind
On 2 June, European health ministers "welcomed in principle" the idea of setting up a Centre for Disease Prevention and Control for the European Community by 2005. The European Commission should make a decision on the proposal on 18 July, but what such a centre should amount to in practice has not yet been agreed.
The European Health Commissioner, David Byrne, has proposed a surveillance structure similar to the Institut national de veille sanitaire for France (http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ew/2002/021003.asp). At the European Council meeting that endorsed the idea, Commissioner Byrne said: "The Centre should analyse and assess risks to human health from communicable diseases and other health threats. It should provide expert advice to EU policy makers on matters concerning their management, and enhance the capacity of the European Union and its Member States to protect human health through prevention and control measures." The components he lists as examples include "increased joint investigative capacity", "reinforced laboratory networking", and "better communication with the public", all of which could be done in cyberspace.
Michel Tibayrenc, who made his case in the Bulletin for such a centre 18 months ago (2001;79:1094), thinks there also needs to be a building, with a staff, like at the CDC in Atlanta, USA. "It is the only way the Europeans can reach the critical sizes the Americans can afford for certain kinds of essential research," he told the Bulletin. "This is beyond the resources of any single European country working nationally."
The centre according to Tibayrenc's proposals consists of a centralized structure, "with walls", and with a staff of about 500, and a threefold mission: advanced research; control and surveillance; and professional training. The research function should avoid duplication with national activities, and could go in two complementary directions: first, large- scale technologies that require cost-sharing at the European level; second, protecting vanishing competences such as medical entomology, which are essential for disease control but avoided by young researchers because they do not generate high impact factors. Control and surveillance activities should set clear limits for national sovereignties in the field of communicable diseases, as was illustrated by the SARS epidemics. International treaties are also urgently needed for this, Tibayrenc says. Professional training should also include a component involving developing countries.
As this issue of the Bulletin goes to press, the Federation of European Societies of Microbiology is debating the specifics of the proposed centre at its Congress in Ljubljana (29 June3 July), which both Tibayrenc and Commissioner Byrne will attend.