Netherlands accused of ignoring urgent advice on how to deal with pandemics

Netherlands accused of ignoring urgent advice on how to deal with pandemics

On three separate occasions, the Netherlands received urgent advice to come up with a policy for dealing with global pandemics, which it is now being accused of ignoring.

Those three occasions - twice in 2016 and once in 2018 - occurred in response to the emergence of Ebola in West Africa. The advice was to compile knowledge about pandemics and to find international cooperation in dealing with them. Nothing was done about this by the Dutch government, according to Trouw.

Fragmentation instead of cooperation

Health advisor Ger Steenbergen, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, wrote advice on how the Netherlands can best arm itself against future pandemics. He stressed that, although there is ample knowledge and experience on how to detect and deal with epidemics in the Netherlands, it is hardly used due to fragmentation instead of cooperation. 

Ger Steenbergen told Trouw that not only is there a lack of cooperation between the Netherlands and other countries, but there is an anomaly within different ministries in the Netherlands, who regard international health in extremely different ways. The Ministry of Health regards a pandemic as a health crisis affecting the Dutch people, whereas the international nature of a pandemic means that it falls under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But the latter ministry doesn’t usually regard health as an international theme.

In 2016, a report by the Development Cooperation Inspectorate (IOB) stated that the refusal of the Netherlands to act makes the Netherlands “partly responsible” for problems in the WHO, including the lack of urgency with which the WHO tends to react. The evaluation stated that “too little attention is paid to the strengthening of health systems in a broad sense.”

Lack of unified strategy: each country deals with the pandemic differently

Steenbergen said that the Netherlands should have come up with a way to deal with pandemics with more solidarity, as advised, and this would have had much better consequences, not just for other countries, but also for the Netherlands. "We are now responding to the pandemic in our own interest, while as European countries we could have prepared a joint policy years ago,” said Steenbergen.

In the current coronavirus crisis, all countries have their own policies. Some are developing vaccines, others aren’t. Some have shortages of supplies, while others don’t. One country counts deaths in both nursing homes and hospitals, while others record only hospital deaths.

Rachel Deloughry


Rachel Deloughry

Rachel is a writer, editor and digital content creator, passionate about the arts, culture and lifestyle.

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