Dutch Cabinet accused of ignoring global pandemic advice for years

A person in a medical mask in front of the Dutch flag
Artist's rendering of a person in a medical mask in front of the Dutch flagValeryBrozhinskyDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

At least three times since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, the Dutch government received urgent advice to bundle knowledge about pandemics and seek international cooperation in dealing with them - twice in 2016 and once in 2018. But nothing was done with that advice, Trouw reports based on its own research.

Two years ago, the Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sports asked health advisor Ger Steenbergen to write advice on how the Netherlands can arm itself against a pandemic. Steenbergen concluded that there is considerable knowledge and experience in the Netherlands on identifying and combating epidemics, but that this is hardly ever used. At the same time, he advocated international cooperation to develop a joint strategy.

In 2016, an evaluation by the Development Cooperation Inspectorate and Policy Evaluation stated that its refusal to cooperate makes the Netherlands "partly responsible" for problems at the World Health Organization, which the agencies said already reacted too laxly to epidemics. In that same year, the Clingendael Institute also said that a more coherent Dutch response is needed in the event of an epidemic. 

But nothing was done with any of that advice, according to the newspaper.

Steenbergen now told Trouw that this is because the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs consider international health differently. "Public Health thinks that it is about the Dutch health situation and that the international health situation falls under Foreign Affairs. But that department does not see heath as an international theme," he said.

The lack of international cooperation can be seen in country after country buckling under the coronavirus, with no common policy or vision on how to get out of this crisis.