Acute flaccid myelitis: progress in research on the condition conducted under the Health Programme

Acute flaccid myelitis: progress in research on the condition conducted under the Health Programme

On 9 November 2020, French Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Aurelia Beigneux of the Identity and Democracy Group posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:

“A worrying illness is set to reappear in the autumn. Acute flaccid myelitis is a rare neurological condition which affects children around five years old. Since 2014, ‘the virus has been returning in a two-year cycle, with a new generation who do not have immunisation and thus enable the virus to pick up again’, according to Kevin Messacar, specialist in infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital Colorado. The disease is not yet present in Europe. But it is a mystery. It causes muscle atrophy in one or more limbs. In serious cases the brain stem is affected, impeding all the body’s automatic functions, so that swallowing saliva and breathing become impossible. The symptoms resemble those of polio, a virus which has been virtually eradicated. Researchers have identified two main suspects – enteroviruses D68 and A71 – but are uncertain as to whether they are the real cause of the illness.

I would like to ask the following:

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe, what are the Commission’s intentions regarding the promotion of research on acute flaccid myelitis under the Health Programme?”

On 1 February 2021, Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel responded on behalf of the European Commission stating: “The Commission has played a central role in supporting and coordinating research on COVID-19 and launched several special actions including the establishment of Pan-European COVID-19 cohorts that should provide important information. Indeed, the ORCHESTRA project (Connecting European cohorts to increase common and effective response to SARS-CoV-2 pandemic) offers an innovative approach to learn from the SARS-CoV-2 health crisis and derive recommendations for increasing preparedness for future outbreaks. These initiatives and cohorts in development will likely also be beneficial for the monitoring of emerging diseases like acute flaccid myelitis.

As regarding Horizon Europe, the upcoming research and innovation programme, a better understanding of diseases and their drivers has been identified as one of the priorities of its health cluster. Therefore, scientists and other actors with a specific interest in acute flaccid myelitis should have many possibilities to obtain support for their research and their goals in better understanding the causes of this disease.”


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