18 May 2021. In a correspondence article published yesterday in The Lancet, The League of European Research Universities (LERU) and the European Global Health Research Institutes Network (EGHRIN) outline how Europe should take a leading position globally in developing a comprehensive and timely response to health emergencies.

On Friday 21st May, the Italian Presidency of the G20 and the European Commission will co-host the Global Health Summit to share lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and to discuss how best to tackle future crises. No doubt many of the various initiatives already announced by the European Commission to tackle future health emergencies will be discussed, including the proposed European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA).

The exact form of the HERA is still unknown. While its initial focus could be on stockpiling, in their correspondence article,  LERU and EGHRIN outline how the HERA should eventually take the form of a complete end-to-end authority which streamlines initiatives in the area of health preparedness and response, and builds upon the competencies already in place through bodies such as the European Centre for Prevention and Disease Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The authors suggest that HERA should adopt a five-pronged bundled model for health emergency preparedness, working in close collaboration with existing EU and relevant non-EU agencies. In this way, HERA would promote technological innovation, promote policy development and implementation, carry out horizon scanning and develop education and training activities to ensure that the skills needed for future health emergencies are already in place when needed.

As LERU and EGHRIN acknowledge, this five-pronged model is vitally dependent upon two additional cross-cutting elements; enhanced engagement with non-EU and low-middle income countries, and promoting the role of universities and research institutes in contributing to the HERA.

Professor Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of LERU said that ‘Research-intensive universities are uniquely placed to contribute to the HERA by promoting the necessary multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary knowledge which is so vital to solve the complex and multifactorial health emergency issues of the future’.

Simone Villa, from the University of Milan, a member of both LERU and EGHRIN, and lead author of the correspondence article added: ‘HERA can play a key role in reshaping how preparedness and response plans are developed and implemented.  Universities, and networks such as EGHRIN, can act as the point of junction for several sectors bridging the gap between disciplines involved in quality and sustainable preparedness and response strategies to complex health emergencies like pandemics, antimicrobial resistance, and climate change.’ 

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