Public health resources - core capacities to address the threat of communicable diseases

Organisers: ASPHER, ECDC, EHMA

Moderators: Katarzyna Czabanowska, ASPHER, and Karl Ekdahl, ECDC

Robust public health capacities and capabilities are essential elements in prevention and control of communicable diseases. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) assists the EU Member States to ‘have sufficient numbers of trained specialists […], and to have a capability to define health measures to control disease outbreaks’. ECDC also supports the implementation of Decision No. 1082/2013/EU, by providing technical advice and expert guidance aiming at strengthening public health emergency preparedness (PHEP) across the EU.

The logic model  for PHEP makes a distinction between capacities and capabilities. Capacities represent the resources – infrastructure, policies and procedures, knowledgeable and trained personnel – that a public health system has to draw upon. Capacities necessarily reflect variations in Member States’ government and private-sector organisations. Capabilities, on the other hand, describe what Member States are expected to achieve during an emergency, and can be described in a consistent way for all countries. Capacities and capabilities are both important for an effective emergency response; however, depending on the context, different kinds of capacities may be needed to achieve the required capabilities. (See

In the period 2014 – 2017, ECDC conducted a number of case studies to review public health preparedness in EU/EEA countries. Cases studies were built using a health threat (e.g. MERS-CoV, polio, Ebola and tick borne diseases) that could cause infectious disease outbreak and review focused, among other elements, on interoperability of plans between sectors and cross border aspect. In response to the Ebola outbreak, the Centre also visited three Member States with the aim to review their preparedness to respond to highly contagious haemorrhagic diseases. All assessed countries demonstrated to have a cadre of highly motivated and well-performing experts, even in settings where salaries have been severely cut.

With increasing urgency, developing and maintaining a well-trained and competent public health workforce, as an asset for the future of the public health, is becoming a clear priority. The trends affecting public health workforce demographics - including aspects linked to recruitment, retention and ageing of the workforce - call for policy attention to ensure that this particular public health asset does not get depleted. Other trends and new paradigms in public health, like big data and molecular diagnostics, call for a new generation of public health specialists with competencies relevant to the traditional as well as new facets of communicable disease prevention and control.

The aim of this one-hour session is to stir the debate around the essential public health capacities and capabilities needed to effectively address prevention and control of communicable diseases in the European context. The session will start with a keynote speaker, followed by a lively expert panel discussion reflecting different perspectives: policy, education and training, practice perspective, including an example of good practice.

Key question addressed:

How to ensure the development of competent and effective public health workforce able to address the issues related to emergency preparedness and response in times of new and evolving paradigms?