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One of the five strategic objectives of ECDC’s Strategy 2021-2027 is dedicated to increasing health security in the EU through international collaboration and alignment regarding infectious disease policies and practice by strengthened cooperation and coordination between ECDC and partners in non-EU countries, in particular EU-neighbouring countries, and its international partners.
The Centre actively fosters links with the Western Balkans and Turkey as partners under the EU enlargement policy, and helps them to prepare for future participation in ECDC’s activities, implements technical assistance activities, and assists the European Commission in evaluating the countries’ progress in adopting EU standards.
The European Council granted EU candidate status to several countries that are more advanced in aligning their legislation with EU acquis. These are Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo* (*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence) remain potential candidates, although they are beneficiaries of EU support through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) and participate in cooperation with ECDC on an equal basis to the candidate countries.
ECDC has been working closely with the Western Balkans and Turkey, through the technical assistance projects with EU financial support funded by European Commission (DG NEAR) under the IPA, towards their gradual integration into ECDC activities as per EU acquis and in bringing them closer to EU standards and systems on communicable disease prevention and control, with a particular focus on assisting them in strengthening surveillance, public health microbiology systems, workforce capacities, and preparedness and response capacities. ECDC is currently implementing ECDC-IPA6 Action “Preparatory measures for the participation of Western Balkans and Turkey in ECDC with special focus on One Health against AMR an enhanced SARI surveillance”, 2020-2024. In addition, upon request from the European Commission (DG SANTE), ECDC conducts assessments of the capacities of non-EU countries in the field of communicable diseases.
Relations between ECDC and the Western Balkans and Turkey are coordinated via the officially nominated single contact points in national public health authorities, called National ECDC Correspondents.
ECDC’s cooperation with the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) partner countries aims at developing technical cooperation on the prevention and control of serious cross-border threats to health from communicable diseases, and bringing them closer to EU standards through the strengthening of capacities and the approximation of practices and legislation.
Since 2020, ECDC has been implementing the EU Initiative on Health Security, financed by the European Commission (DG NEAR) aiming at enabling tailor-made support to the European Neighbourhood Policy partner countries to set up a regional competent workforce for the prevention and control of threats posed by communicable diseases and to enhance regional cooperation to tackle cross-border health security threats. It focuses on workforce-oriented capability building delivered through the Mediterranean and Black Sea Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (MediPIET, which also covers EU candidate and potential candidate countries), capacity building in epidemic intelligence, risk assessment, preparedness and response and promotion of regional cooperation, knowledge sharing and networking.
ECDC’s long-term objective is to establish a set of procedures and tools available for technical cooperation with ENP countries as well as to have well-functioning contacts for cooperation in place.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is ECDC’s most important technical partner. Collaboration through its Regional Office for Europe (WHO Europe) has been developed over the years to a close technical partnership. ECDC experts regularly contribute to the technical work of WHO on infectious diseases, and ECDC participates in WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN). WHO Europe has tasks and responsibilities that interlink with those of ECDC. ECDC therefore places the utmost importance in coordinating its work with WHO Europe to efficiently use limited resources and avoid the duplication of efforts. Since 2008, ECDC and WHO Europe have produced joint annual surveillance reports of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis across the EU and the wider European neighbourhood (the WHO European Region covers 53 countries). ECDC and WHO Europe also work together on influenza surveillance and have partnered on numerous training and capacity-building initiatives.
Collaboration with WHO Europe was reinforced in 2011 through the renewal of an administrative arrangement establishing a framework for technical cooperation, joint activities, and coordination, and the establishment of a Joint Coordination Group.
Acknowledging the importance of strong international cooperation and coordination with partners in addressing serious cross-border threats to health from communicable diseases towards improving health security at the EU and globally, ECDC collaborates with other Centres for Disease Control (CDCs) in non-EU countries at a bilateral and multilateral level. The Centre has signed Memoranda of Understanding/administrative arrangements with a number of CDCs across the globe, including the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Israel’s Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Health of Mexico.
Acknowledging the strategic importance between the two technical continental agencies, and in line with EU foreign policy priority to strenthen partnerships with Africa, on 7 December 2020, ECDC and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) launched a four-year partnership entitled “EU for health security in Africa: ECDC for Africa CDC”, with financial support from the European Commission under the European Development Fund.
In 2019, on the initiative of ECDC, a number of CDCs across the globe (Africa, Canada, Caribbean, China, Israel, Thailand, the United States) agreed to establish an international forum, the Network of major CDCs, to exchange information and expertise to respond effectively to threats posed to public health. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ECDC has intensified the exchange at bilateral and multilateral levels with other CDCs, with Singapore, South Korea, and Mexico joining. The Network has proven to be particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic.