Scale up preparedness for health emergencies: WHO

Dili (Timor-Leste), Sep 8 (IANS) The WHO on Tuesday urged to scale up emergency risk management capacities, make health facilities functional during disasters, and expedite efforts to prepare for epidemics and pandemics, a statement said.

Addressing 11 countries at the ongoing 68th Regional Committee Meeting of the WHO South-East Asia region, the member countries were urged to invest in emergency preparedness measures to effectively respond to natural disasters, diseases, chemical and radiological events and any other emergency with health implications.

“The region is prone to disasters. There is need for better preparedness, an essential public health function that needs to be prioritised,” Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for WHO South-East Asia said.

“Preventing and responding to health emergencies is an issue of global health security.”

Countries need to accelerate compliance to the International Health Regulations (2005), by building capacities to detect, report and respond to public health events, she added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is supporting countries in the region to build capacities such as good infection prevention and control practice, effective surveillance, systems at points of entry, and laboratory bio-safety and bio-security global best practices and standards.

These have been further stepped up in the recent years in the wake of the Ebola outbreak and MERS.

The region has witnessed the outbreaks of SARS and Avian Influenza, the 2004 tsunami, earthquakes, cyclones, floods and flash floods, noted Singh.

Citing Nepal quake, Singh said hospitals in Kathmandu had been retrofitted and its manpower trained in contingency planning and mass casualty management therefore, they demonstrated the effectiveness of their emergency preparedness.

“The hospitals continued to function and provide health care to the affected population,” Singh said.

Similarly, the 2004 Tsunami was the “turning point for disaster preparedness” and led to the creation of South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Funds (SEARHEF).

SEARHEF was used to extend technical support and financial assistance to flood-ravaged Myanmar.

It has so far funded 25 emergencies in nine countries.

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