New Delhi: World Health Organization has called upon countries in WHO South-East Asia Region to scale up emergency risk management capacities, expedite efforts to prepare for epidemics and pandemics and make health facilities safe and functional during disasters.
“The Region is prone to disasters. Every disaster is a reminder of the need for better risk reduction and preparedness, an essential public health function that needs to be prioritized,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia, said at the WHO Regional Committee meeting in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste.
Preventing and responding to health emergencies is an issue of global health security. Every country must invest in emergency preparedness measures to effectively respond to natural disasters, infectious diseases, chemical and radiological events and any other emergency with health implications.
Countries need to accelerate compliance to the International Health Regulations (2005), by building capacities to detect, report and respond to public health events.
WHO is supporting countries in the Region to build core capacities required of them in the International Health Regulations such as good practice in infection prevention and control, effective surveillance, systems at points of entry, and laboratory biosafety and biosecurity global best practices and standards. These have been further stepped up in the recent years in the wake of the Ebola outbreak and MERS CoV.
Over the years, WHO South-East Asia Region has witnessed a series of major public health emergencies. The outbreaks of SARS and Avian Influenza, the 2004 tsunami, earthquakes, cyclones, floods and flash floods. The scale of risks and needs associated with outbreaks and emergencies with health consequences is unprecedented.
“The earthquake in Nepal demonstrated the effectiveness of emergency preparedness. The hospitals in Kathmandu, that had been retrofitted and its manpower trained in contingency planning and mass casualty management as part of Nepal’s emergency preparedness measures, withstood the earthquakes on 25 April and 12 May and continued to function and provide health care to the affected population,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
The emergency preparedness in the Region ensured that within hours of the 25 April earthquake in Nepal, WHO was able to rush to the hospitals its pre-positioned emergency medicines and equipment needed to treat trauma patients.
The South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Funds (SEARHEF) was disbursed within a day to meet the immediate critical needs of the emergency response.
After the Nepal Earthquake, the Region is responding to the floods in Myanmar which has displaced 350,000 people in 14 states. WHO has extended technical support and financial assistance through SEARHEF to Myanmar.
The SEARHEF and other emergency response capacities were built in the Region after the tsunami in 2004. The mega disaster which affected six of the 11 countries in the Region, was the turning point for disaster preparedness. The SEARHEF has so far funded 25 emergencies in nine countries.
Taking lessons from 2004 tsunami, WHO set up 12 benchmarks to measure comprehensive capacities in emergency preparedness and response; and has been working closely with the countries in the Region for strengthening them.
WHO in South-East Asia continues to prioritize emergency preparedness, as a flagship project, to minimize health impact of disasters and outbreaks.