National University of Ireland Galway
The European Union-funded pandemic project, Pandemic Risk and Emergency Management (PANDEM), has completed its research phase and produced a final report, identifying current needs and recommending innovative solutions to the European Commission. The 18-month project, coordinated by NUI Galway, was funded through the EU Horizon 2020 Secure Societies programme of research and innovation, to help improve pandemic preparedness across European Union member states and beyond.
Throughout history, pandemics have had a major impact on the health and security of human populations. An outbreak of plague killed one third of Europe’s population in the Middle Ages, and Spanish flu killed 40-50 million people in the early 20th century. In 2003, a new disease called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) emerged in China and spread from Hong Kong through international transport hubs to multiple countries within days causing major disruption with an estimated economic cost of US$80 billion. The most recent H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 spread around the world in weeks, affecting all countries with significant health, economic, political, social, cultural and environmental consequences. More recently, outbreaks of the Zika virus, Ebola and MERS-CoV have posed major threats to human health, and to global trade and trust.
The threat analysis conducted by the project concluded that the risk of emergence of a pandemic is greater now than ever before. Influenza viruses continue to circulate between birds, pigs and humans, greater numbers of laboratories engaging in bioengineering work on dangerous pathogens increases the risk of accidental release if biosafety measures are not strictly implemented, and bioterrorism poses a threat with the increased availability of technology and knowledge to build a bioweapon. Antibiotic resistance is also a major threat to human health which could bring the management of infectious diseases back to the pre-antibiotic era.
The objectives of the PANDEM project were to review best practice and identify tools and systems needed to strengthen pandemic preparedness and response at national, EU and global levels. From the beginning of the project in September 2015, there has been a particular focus on identifying innovative solutions to build capacity of EU member states to collaborate on cross border risk assessment, response and recovery. These solutions aim to build the foundations for a multi-disciplinary, inter-sectoral network of experts, and contribute to the reduction of health, socio-economic and security consequences of future pandemics through improved preparedness at local, national, EU and global level.
Professor Máire Connolly from the Discipline of Bacteriology in the School of Medicine at NUI Galway, and coordinator of the PANDEM project said: “The timing and origin of the next pandemic is uncertain, but improved preparedness can minimise the impact on human lives and health, and the disruption to economies and societies that results. By applying innovations from the security, defence and crisis management sectors to improve the tools and systems used by the health sector, we can help to ensure that Europe and the wider world are better prepared to rapidly detect and mitigate the impact of the next pandemic.”
The project coordinated by NUI Galway included the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Swedish Defense Research Agency, Public Health Agency of Sweden, Université catholique de Louvain and IGS Strategic Communications.
The PANDEM team at NUI Galway, a collaboration between the School of Medicine, the College of Engineering and Informatics and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, demonstrated the cutting edge expertise in the University and the value of cross-disciplinary work to bring science and innovation to the next level in this important field of pandemic research.
The PANDEM Final Conference was held in Brussels earlier this month, back-to-back with a meeting of DG HOME’s Community of Users for Safe, Secure and Resilient societies, which brought the recommendations of the PANDEM project and proposed next steps to more than 1,000 members of the Community of Users in crisis management, security and related fields in Europe.