Wastewater is a mirror of our civilization and an effective early warning system for the spreading of contagious diseases. Through the EU4Environment Water and Data program, the European Union supports its Eastern Partner countries in the further development of wastewater monitoring and in institutionalizing this new powerful tool for public health protection.
On 3 July 2023, upfront the WHO Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Budapest, a high-level workshop brings together ministers and other decision-makers of the Eastern Partner countries with EU representatives to address the need for a national wastewater-based epidemiology policy and regulation in the region. Aim of the workshop is to review the power and benefits of this tool and to initiate the relevant policy processes in the partner countries to formally establish a surveillance that can easily coordinate with the EU and other global actors. Austrian experts will highlight progress and further needs at the workshop and in a side event at the WHO Ministerial Conference on July 5.
“Together, the European Union and our Eastern partners were able to overcome enormous challenges posed by the pandemic”, explains Lawrence Meredith, director of the EU Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations. “The next step will be to set up routine wastewater epidemiological testing as soon as possible. The European Union is ready to make this next step together with the Eastern Partner countries.”
“In order to ensure establishment, sustainability and reliability of national wastewater-based epidemiology programmes, it is essential to define procedures with allocated responsibilities at the health and environment sectors. Countries need to arrange formal commitment from relevant national actors and ensure adequate resourcing. Our program has laid the foundation for this”, states Alexander Zinke, project leader of EU4Environment Water and Data.
“We are keen to share the EU experience and strengthen regular coordination with key actors at EU and the global level” says Bernd Gawlik from the EU Joint Research Centre, stressing the global dimension of wastewater-based epidemiology.
Wastewater-based epidemiology has been established since 2021 throughout Europe as a cost-effective, rapid and reliable source of epidemiologic information for national health authorities, local health care and national disease control centers, public and private wastewater operators, and water and environment agencies. Triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, wastewater surveillance of the spread of infections is becoming a global standard that has clear advantages compared for instance to clinical testings. The EU4Environment Water and Data program initiated in April 2022 the introduction of wastewater-based epidemiology to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Republic of Moldova, supports Ukraine and keeps on transferring the EU and Austrian experience and know how on this topic in close coordination with the European Commission.