EU health ministers plot emergency response at Riga meet

Health ministers from across the European Union on Tuesday discussed the bloc's reaction to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, raising the possibility of migrants in need of medical treatment being taken beyond traditional border states such as Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus.

"It's clear the Mediterranean countries are very concerned by flows of migration. It is clear that it is not only an issue related to migration, it also has a health dimension," said Latvian health minister Guntis Belēvičs, who chaired the two-day discussions.

"Cyprus mentioned that they have beds for infectious diseases but if migrants come with one or two boats with infectious diseases, the government requires the assistance of other countries to transport these patients. Similar views were expressed by Greece. Their health system lacks resources. They face a significant burden in solving the health issues of migrants and refugees," Belēvičs added.

Cyprus, Malta, Greece and other southern countries had asked the EU to share the expenditure required, Belēvičs explained.

"As we speak in Brussels a ten point plan has been adopted to tackle this problem but the representative here from Greece said that these ten points do not include a reference to health issues."

Speaking alongside Belēvičs was Ladislav Miko, Acting Director-General of the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety of the European Commission.

Miko - deputising for Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis who is unwell - said a "very quick response" to the crisis was needed.

"[Yesterday] We activated the process within the health security committee and asked the states which are impacted on their immediate emergency needs. We have got reaction already from Italy and Malta and today we had reactions from ministers for Greece and Cyprus and we also encouraged ministers to say in which way they could address the concrete needs of the named countries and do it in a fast way using the framework of the health security committee," Miko said.

"First of all it is the capacity of the countries to deal with the problem. Basically they were not prepared for having hundreds of patients in a single day in situations when all the people coming as migrants have been dehydrated and require hospital care which is simply impossible to provide in such a small country like Malta for example.

Responses could take the form of emergency kits, logistical support, or material in kind such as providing vaccines, Mikso said "but also potentially to allow the capacity of hospitals to take care of the migrants in other countries."

"The emergency is there, now, it's concrete [with] people suffering which needs to be addressed very fast," Miko said.

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