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On 26 September 2013, the ENVI Committee hosted an exchange of views with the European Commission and Dr. Marc Sprenger, Director of the European Center for Disease prevention and Control (ECDC).  He discussed ECDC developments in enhancing health protection of European citizens and highlighted the role of the agency for reducing healthcare associated infections (HAIs) across Europe.

Established in 2005, the ECDC aims at strengthening Europe’s defenses against infectious diseases by identifying, assessing and communicating current and emerging threats to human health posed by infectious diseases.

Dr. Sprenger explained that in order to achieve this mission, ECDC works in partnership with national health protection bodies across Europe to strengthen and develop continent-wide disease surveillance and early warning systems. By working with experts throughout Europe, ECDC pools Europe’s health knowledge to develop authoritative scientific opinions about the risks posed by current and emerging infectious diseases.

In particular, the ECDC invests in tackling HAIs which still impact 1 out of every 18 patients in Europe (3.2 million people annually).  In July 2013, the ECDC published its most recent report on prevalence of HAIs, “Point prevalence survey of healthcare-associated infections and antimicrobial use in European acute care hospitals 2011-2012” whichgives the most complete picture available of HAIs in 29 EU/EEA Member States and Croatia in 2011–2012.  Data coming from a total of 273 753 patients in 1149 hospitals were submitted to ECDC in order to estimate the prevalence of healthcare-associated infections in European hospitals.

Dr. Sprenger defined the situation as “alarming,” and suggested that the number of patients affected by HAI can be significantly reduced with the adoption of simple hygienic rules such as hand washing.  In order to encourage better hand hygiene, the ECDC is providing training to healthcare professionals at national and European level to facilitate cultural changes in health systems.

Moreover, the ECDC is engaged in a dialogue with the European Commission and the ENVI Committee to ensure coordination among agencies to guarantee the safety of citizens in the case of a disease outbreak. For instance, in Germany in 2011, the rapid risk assessment conducted by the ECDC after an outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) and the coordinated action with DG SANCO ensured isolation of the disease and minimized the consequences for the population.

This exchange of views occurred the day after the vote of the ENVI Committee on MEP Oreste Rossi’s Own-Initiative report on patient safety including the prevention and control of healthcare associated infections.  The report provides the European Parliament’s view on the next steps for patient safety at EU level, and calls for:

  • Training of healthcare professionals in the area of patient and healthcare worker safety
  • Setting national targets for the reduction of HAIs
  • Encouraging Member States to collect comparable, up-to-date reference data on general patient safety and HAIs and to publish this data on an annual basis (with the support of the ECDC)