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Kyriakides: Strong cooperation is key to prepare for new Covid waves

Υπουργός Υγείας – Συνάντηση Υψηλο
Stella Kyriakides (PIO)

Strong cooperation within the European Union and beyond is key to prepare for a possible new coronavirus wave and other future health threats, EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Friday in Limassol.

Addressing European health ministers at the high-level meeting titled Covid-19: The Way Forward after the Pandemic, Kyriakides highlighted the importance of vaccination but also other measures to contain the pandemic including an expected EU global health strategy.

Winter is “just around the corner” and an increase in the epidemiological indicators has been recorded in a number of countries already, the EU commissioner said.

“This means it is time to prepare for possible Covid-19 waves.

“Together, we can make a real difference and strengthen the EU’s capacity to cure, to prevent, to protect, to prepare for and respond to health crises in a sustained manner – this winter and beyond.”

This collaboration has allowed us to make the EU “the world’s pharmacy” and to make safe and effective vaccines available to all Member States at all times.

Anti-coronavirus vaccines “have saved at least 20 million lives around the globe”, Kyriakides said, calling on all member states to enforce robust vaccination strategies as we head into the fourth year of the pandemic.

She congratulated Cyprus for reaching an overall adult vaccination rate of over 85 per cent, however, all EU countries “can do more” focusing on increasing primary vaccinations and coverage for the first and second booster, currently below 10 per cent of people eligible for it.

“We now have access to adapted vaccines, in the quantities needed for all our citizens to get protected,” she said, urging everyone eligible to get vaccinated.

Beyond vaccinations, states can reinforce the capacity of surveillance systems to monitor the spread of the virus, the European health commissioner said. She added that strategies are needed to reintroduce effective public health measures and boost healthcare system capacity when necessary.

“We should also focus on better understanding the causes and consequences of long Covid,” Kyriakides said.

With the cooperation of EU member states “we are taking important steps to create a strong European Health Union”. This has allowed us to overcome taboos of the past about who does what on health in Europe and to “chart a new path of collaboration in the area of health”.

“We have already taken considerable steps on the preparedness side, by reinforcing the mandates of our expert Agencies, ECDC and EMA, as well as creating HERA to be our watchtower against future health threats,” the health commissioner said, as she referred to future European projects in the area of health.

The Pharmaceutical reform coming up early next year will ensure all patients, regardless of where they live in the EU, access affordable, innovative, high-quality, safe, sustainable and effective medicines they need, she said.

To this end contributes the ambitious proposal for a European health data space, the first EU common health specific ecosystem.

To address structural global gaps and weaknesses, the EU will launch a new global health strategy in November, to fend off future health threats together with international partners.

Kyriakides highlighted the importance of One Health approach, noting that human, animal and environmental health cannot be viewed separately.

“We have all seen that we are stronger when we work together. This cooperation must therefore continue in the months ahead,” Kyriakides said.

Citing future threats, she noted that 60,000 monkeypox cases have been reported globally. Cases in the EU are decreasing but the threat “has not yet passed”, Kyriakides said, adding that HERA is procuring 330,000 vaccines and over 10,000 treatment courses of Tecovirimat to distribute among EU member states.

“The only response to a global crisis is a joint one. International partnerships and solidarity are crucial,” said the WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Henri Kluge in his speech at the meeting after the signing of a statement of intent on the opening of a WHO country office in Cyprus.

“Placing this office in Cyprus is no coincidence,” Kluge said, explaining how the island has long been of geopolitical importance and a hub for migration. As a Member State of WHO Europe and the European Union it is a political entry-point for liaising with other regions – at the cross-roads of East and West; the European and Eastern Mediterranean regions, WHO regional director said.

Furthermore, the island has “a history of excellence in science and research,” Kluge said.

“During the pandemic, Cyprus once again demonstrated what it’s capable of. It showed great resilience and even pushed through reforms during the pandemic. More recently, Cyprus’ high level of preparedness and expertise in combating infectious and zoonotic disease was displayed as it took on monkeypox.”

This new office will contribute to the implementation of the WHO European Programme of Work 2020-2025, the WHO General Programme of Work and to achieving the WHO Triple Billion targets.

It will also work with the government to advance the health of Cypriots, and act as an essential reference point for Europe and other intra- and inter-regional collaborations. The office will contribute to Cyprus being a health forerunner and a major EU player in bringing about innovation, Kluge said before thanking the health minister Michalis Hadjipantela in Greek.

For his part, the Cypriot health minister said that although Covid-19 revealed limitations in the national healthcare system, the country had an effective response to the coronavirus pandemic since its first reported case on March 9 2020.

“It was important to provide high quality healthcare services to our citizens and for accessibility to these services would not be significantly disrupted,” Hadjipantela said.

Cyprus, with its newly established health scheme Gesy, was able to keep mortality rates low, by implementing an action plan and referring non-covid cases to private hospitals.

A scientific advisory committee for the Covid-19 pandemic was setup early on and emphasis was given to testing and isolation of cases, the minister said, reiterating how the country has one of the highest testing rates worldwide.

Strict measures were also taken at airports and ports to contain the spread of the virus, while the health ministry campaigned for anti-coronavirus vaccinations.

To date, about four in five adults are fully vaccinated, while 86.5 per cent of those over 60 have been boosted, Hadjipantela said.

Speaking about the lessons learned from the pandemic, he said Covid-19 challenged the healthcare system and revealed limitations that need to be addressed while it expedited the adoption of digital technologies. It also had a “significant impact on mental health worldwide which we will need to address by investing in our mental health services,” he said.

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