New EU project to support readiness for vaccination efforts and resilient health systems in the Western Balkans

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


The European Union in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a new regional project worth over €7 million to support safe and effective vaccination of the populations across the Western Balkans.

This project will help prepare the region for the effective reception and administration of COVID-19 vaccines, including those received from COVAX and through the EU vaccine sharing mechanism with EU Member States. It will also help improve the region’s resilience against health emergencies, and support it in moving towards sustainable funding for universal health care. Activities will include, amongst others, development and testing of emergency preparedness plans, training for health professionals and development of information management systems for vaccine roll out.

Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, commented: “With this new project to support vaccination campaigns in the Western Balkans in partnership with the WHO, the EU continues to deliver on its commitment to support our partners in dealing with the pandemic since its start. The project comes on top of our €70 million package to support access to vaccines for the region and to procure the necessary equipment for the campaigns.”

Background

The new regional project concludes the launch of a series of regional actions benefitting the Western Balkan region totalling over €25 million financed under the European Union’s Instrument for Pre-accession (IPA). These actions are designed to address COVID-19 related health issues and help vulnerable populations in the Western Balkans to deal with the pandemic.

The €25 million package has also allowed the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to strengthen their work with the Western Balkans. The support has enabled ECDC to perform a “stress-test” of all the Western Balkan’s vaccine strategies, which revealed some important lessons for the implementation of the strategies. Future work will be in the area of SARI (severe acute respiratory infections) surveillance in particular.

The package also includes five further projects with the Council of Europe, UNWOMEN, UNICEF, UNDP and the Red Cross respectively, which have been signed recently and support vulnerable groups impacted by the pandemic in the Western Balkans and Turkey, notably Roma, women – in particular victims of violence -, children, returnees and the elderly and persons with disabilities.

To ensure early access to vaccines and building on the experience of the EU’s Vaccine Strategy, the European Commission is setting up an EU sharing mechanism to facilitate Member States’ sharing of doses secured by the EU, including with our Western Balkan partners. €70 million have been allocated to support this.

The total EU assistance package for the Western Balkans in response to COVID-19 currently exceeds €3.3 billion, as indicated in the Commission Communication on the support to the Western Balkans in tackling COVID-19 and post-pandemic recovery. This includes immediate support of for equipment, medium and longer-term support to the health systems and the economies, support to businesses through local banks, macro-financial assistance in the form of loans, and a European Investment Bank (EIB) response package. In addition to this financial support, the EU has also enabled all the Western Balkans to join the EU Joint Purchase Agreement to buy medical counter-measures, and to join the EU Health Security Committee as observers.

The EU is nearing completion of the delivery of the immediate emergency support, with more than 11.3 million pieces of protective equipment, 350 ventilators, 300 ICU beds and 180 monitors, 108 patient triage containers, 150 pieces of large medical equipment (ECG, echographs, xrays, ultrasounds), 15 ambulances and 30,000 smaller medical devices (thermometers, catheters, syringes, infusion pumps, defibrillators, etc.). Emergency support also provided 82,000 COVID tests, material to calibrate another 580,000 tests and 25,000 litres of disinfectant. This support is complemented by protective equipment and items for vulnerable groups delivered through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Furthermore, the EU is one of the strongest supporters of COVAX, which remains the best vehicle to ensure fair and equitable access to these vaccines and deliver on international vaccine solidarity. Team Europe has contributed more than €850 million for COVAX, including €500 million from the EU budget. This will be a key contribution for COVAX to secure 1.3 billion doses of vaccines for 92 low and middle-income countries by the end of 2021.

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