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Strengthening health emergency security systems top priority: WHO

September 10, 2021 01:33 PM

Kathmandu, The World Health Organization (WHO) and member nations of the South-East Asia Region on Thursday discussed further strengthening of the health emergency security systems to effectively respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future health crises at the ongoing Seventy-Fourth Regional Committee meeting in Nepal.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges. No country globally was prepared enough to deal with an emergency of this scale. It is critical that lessons from the ongoing pandemic are used to inform our efforts to strengthen health security systems,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia.

Strengthening emergency risk management has been a flagship priority programme of the WHO South-East Asia Region since 2014, which has consistently been scaling up response capacities since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a mega-disaster that hit six countries of the region.

Khetrapal stressed that critical gaps in the health security systems and arrangements need to be addressed.

“Countries fully utilized the existing core capacities to control transmission and save lives while trying to match the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” the Regional Director said, adding that “

The member countries discussed reviewing and reforming various aspects of preparedness, including but not limited to emergency governance structures and workforce, surveillance and alert mechanisms, laboratory, supply management systems, health-care system preparedness and risk communication and community engagement, the WHO said.

Revisiting the lessons the world learnt from the Covid,-19 pandemic, the UN agency said that the ongoing response has demonstrated that the highest level of political leadership and involvement and functional multisectoral arrangements are crucial in preparing for and responding to severe health emergencies.

"Another important lesson from the pandemic is the extraordinary scale of surge capacities across the gamut of response from surveillance and contact tracing to clinical management, laboratory testing, vaccination, and community engagement, that the countries need to plan for," it added.

Another lesson learnt from the ongoing pandemic is the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical Public Health and Social Measures (PHSM), the WHO said.

"These measures can stop transmission but also have significant socioeconomic consequences. Hence, epidemiological analysis and response capacity assessment should guide timely adjustment of PHSMs with stringent measures being limited to where and when most needed. Engaging with people for them to make informed decisions to adopt preventive behaviour, support surveillance, contact-tracing, quarantine, and sharing correct information, is critical," it added.

Khetrapal appealed to the member countries that they must build, strengthen and maintain core capacities required under IHR (2005) through developing and implementing the national action plans for health security, linked with health systems strengthening efforts.

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