Climate change is one of the EU’s biggest health risks, with tropical diseases such as dengue fever now present in Europe.
Pierre Delsaux, director general of the EU Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), which was established during the pandemic to ensure better preparedness and faster responses to health crises, said that dengue — a disease usually found in the tropics — is now in southern Spain.
“Climate change is bringing new diseases to Europe, new pathogens,” said Mr Delsaux.
“Dengue... is the kind of disease that will come up with climate change [due to the presence of] more insects, animals that you don’t usually find in Europe.”
There is now a moderate risk of dengue transmission in continental Europe, with 65 locally acquired cases reported in France so far this year, according to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC).
Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne tropical disease caused by the dengue virus, can be fatal if left untreated.
Monkeypox which is being renamed as mpox can be seen as another example of unusual diseases for Europe infecting populations here, he said.
However, the mpox outbreak also shows the vital importance of EU members working together to fight health challenges collectively, Mr Delsaux said.
The EU as a block was able to buy all available mpox vaccine stocks — the vaccine is only produced by one small producer — and distribute them to member states.
More mpox vaccines are expected to be delivered by the EU to Ireland next year, although it is currently unknown how many.
HERA is also now working on programmes with industry so that if the EU requires emergency stocks of vaccines or other medicines in the face of another epidemic, companies will suspend their own projects and focus full-time on producing vaccines for EU populations.
Mr Delsaux said that collective action is vital to solving health crises and saving lives:
During the pandemic, there was a realisation that it was important to work together and that led to the creation of HERA. We are born from the crisis.
A current concern for HERA is the growing problem of antimicrobial (or antibiotic) resistance.
“A lot of people are now dying from antimicrobial resistance in Ireland and elsewhere,” said Mr Delsaux.
According to a new report published by the ECDC on November 17, there are an estimated 35,000 annual deaths from antimicrobial resistance in the EU/European Economic Area.
Between 2016 and 2020, there were significantly increasing trends in the estimated number of infections and deaths due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, although numbers decreased slightly from 2019 to 2020.
Between 2016 and 2020, a significant increasing trend in the estimated number of infections was observed in 18 countries, including Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland.
However, a significant decreasing trend was observed in 10 countries including Ireland, Belgium, Croatia, and France.
HERA, which has a budget of over €1bn in times of non-crisis, has secured between 450m and 900m Covid vaccine doses for next year. Mr Delsaux said:
If we don’t take measures now to prepare for the next health crisis, when it comes, it will be too late.