WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme begins with experience
Disease outbreaks can occur anywhere, anytime, with consequences that can shatter communities. Emergencies of all kinds – conflict, disasters – can cause lasting damage to people’s health. Today, 130 million people are affected by humanitarian crises across the globe. And they cite health as one of their top concerns.
The health and well-being of people is at the core of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) work in emergencies. We provide expertise and evidence-based guidance to governments and partners, as well as leadership of international response to emergencies. We coordinate assistance and deliver medicines, medical supplies and vaccines to people in hard to access areas in the midst of conflict.
As demands to meet emergency health needs increase, WHO’s new Health Emergencies Programme aims to help countries prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from emergencies quickly, in a more predictable, dependable and accountable way, whether these are caused by disease outbreaks, disasters or conflict.
The Strategic Health Operations Centre (SHOC) at WHO Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland monitors global public health events around the clock and facilitates international collaboration and daily operations during public health emergencies. In crisis-affected countries, a common Incident Management System may use a similar operations centre.
A young student receives his first oral cholera vaccination dose from WHO's Dr. Salahuddin Hussein, a medical officer working in Dohuk Governate, Iraq. In the midst of the crises in the Middle East, health services have been devastated and immunization rates have dropped, leaving communities vulnerable to vaccine-preventable disease.
WHO Liberia/Peter Glee
In April 2016, Liberia’s Ministry of Health, WHO and partners held a ceremony at the Ebola treatment facility in Monrovia to celebrate the recovery and discharge of a 2-year-old boy, the final patient in a latest flare-up in Liberia. His 5-year-old brother recovered a week earlier. In 2015, during the Ebola response, WHO deployed over 4000 personnel to over 65 field locations. This was WHO’s largest deployment ever, and required WHO to sustain deployment on this scale over many months.
A mother and child in Recife, Brazil. Emerging evidence suggests a broader range of possible complications for babies born to women affected by Zika virus. These go beyond microcephaly to effects on other brain abnormalities. WHO is coordinating efforts to understand the broad range of complications that define congenital Zika virus.
A yellow fever outbreak detected in Angola in December 2015 has spread to other countries in Africa and beyond. WHO and partners are supporting the governments to rapidly interrupt yellow fever transmission and strengthen measures to prevent farther spread.
Recently, WHO and partners supported a yellow fever vaccination campaign that vaccinated nearly 2 million people against yellow fever in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere ravaged Fiji on 20–21 February. WHO supported the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in the health response to Cyclone Winston by strengthening the Ministry's health facilities. At least 88 of the 214 health facilities throughout Fiji (41%) were damaged, and seven were so severely damaged that services were relocated to temporary locations.
Dr Liu Yunguo (centre left), WHO Representative in Fiji visited a number of health facilities in Central Division in March to survey the damage first-hand and offer support to the centers in need.
After the earthquake in Nepal last year, Nikesh Pahari (right) was living in a tent with his parents and neighbours. The 12-year-old had refused to speak or eat and is afraid to go near his house. A psychiatric social worker from the mobile mental health team taught him and another child a ‘balloon blowing’ breathing technique, which eventually coaxed a smile out of both children.
An emergency medical team with logistics skills reviews damage to a hospital caused by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador in April 2016. Over the last two decades, more than 80 countries have participated in WHO’s Safe Hospital Initiative to help ensure facilities stay operational in the wake of an emergency. Some 4 000 hospitals have been assessed using WHO’s Hospital Safety Index; some have been retrofitted, and staff have been trained in responding to disasters.
WHO Y. Shimzu
A warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, El Niño 2015-2016 is affecting more than 60 million people, particularly in eastern and southern Africa, the Horn of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific region.
Although adverse weather effects of El Niño subsided by mid-2016, the health impacts are expected to last throughout 2016 and beyond. WHO and partners are supporting nearly 30 countries as they respond to the health effects of El Niño.
A WHO staff member checks whether Syrian refugee children in Jordan need to be vaccinated against polio. Some 4.7 million Syrian refugees are expected to be registered neighbouring countries, by the end of 2016. Ministries of Health, United Nations agencies, including WHO, and non-governmental organizations provide much needed health care for Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
WHO has been delivering water services to internally displaced persons and host communities in Yemen. An estimated 9.8 million people in Yemen lost access to water due to the ongoing conflict.
People wait for a doctor’s consultation in front of an old building that functions as a primary health care facility in Synykha village, Ukraine. To address the needs of the population affected by the conflict in Ukraine and internally displaced persons, WHO has established mobile primary health care units in six regions in eastern Ukraine. The units are operated by Health Cluster partners, such as Ukrainian Red Cross and the Hippocrates Greek Medical Foundation.
Because various equipment, medications and other supplies are needed for emergencies, WHO maintains supplies at 5 UN Humanitarian Response depots in Brindisi, Italy; Accra, Ghana; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Panama City, Panama; and Subang, Malaysia that are ready for rapid dispatch. Medicines and medical supplies provided by WHO being distributed to the affected areas in Yemen.
A representative from the International Red Cross speaks with Dr Ian Norton, who leads the work on emergency medical teams at WHO, about response plans in Nepal in 2015. In cooperation with UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and with host-country health ministries, WHO helped to select and guide the work of emergency medical teams providing clinical care in the wake of emergencies, including 28 teams in Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam (March 2015), 149 teams after the Nepal earthquake (April 2015) and 28 teams for the Ecuador earthquake (April 2016).
Harjono Djoyobisono/RedR Australia
WHO Standby Partner, RedR Australia, deployed Clive Phillips to Vanuatu to help with logistics following Cyclone Pam in 2015. Following the cyclone, the Government of Vanuatu requested WHO to coordinate the overall health response.
WHO/ J. Ebrahim
Dr David Lai, a Public Health Officer based in Juba, loads medical supplies onto a United Nations helicopter. WHO and partners seized on an opportunity to deliver 500kg of medical supplies, including kits for trauma care and anaesthesia to the remote Ganyiel Primary Health Care Center. The center has a capacity of 36 beds to serve more than 56 000 people. It is the only health facility in Panyijar County that offers Comprehensive Emergency Obstetrics and Newborn Care. Dr Lai is seconded by World Vision to WHO through the NGO Consortium for the Global Health Cluster.
WHO's work in emergencies