UN health crisis experts meet to boost Africa’s response to emergencies

10 October 2008

Experts with the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) have identified ways to further strengthen the way national health systems in Africa – where most of the world’s humanitarian crises are occurring – function during and after emergencies such as disease outbreaks, flooding and malnutrition.

According to WHO, this year alone, more than 95 per cent of African countries have experienced a humanitarian crisis. This makes it all the more important to strengthen efforts to not only respond to emergencies but to prevent them from happening or be properly prepared when they do.

“If we can continue to improve how countries in Africa prepare for and respond to disasters, the health of millions of people will be improved and secured,” said Omar Khatib, African regional adviser for WHO’s Emergency and Humanitarian Action (EHA) programme.

Improving how countries prepare for recurrent disasters was a key focus of the annual EHA review that brought together about 50 WHO humanitarian experts from throughout Africa to Zanzibar, Tanzania, beginning on 6 October.

“This meeting has identified ways to further strengthen the way national health systems can function during and after a crisis,” Dr. Khatib said. “Our goal as humanitarians is to reduce avoidable suffering and death.

“To do so we must keep improving the way in which we work with countries, help countries to strengthen their capacities and build stronger ties with the donor community to ensure they continue their valuable support to alleviating the health problems faced by millions of Africans,” he added.

Dr. Khatib emphasized the need to continue working with other WHO units to strengthen Africa’s capacities to be able to meet persistent and future emergencies, such as annual flooding and drought, communicable disease control and malnutrition related to the global food security crisis.

Participating in gathering, which WHO considers “the most important meeting for the organization’s health crisis team on the continent,” were experts from Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Burundi, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Liberia, Kenya, Niger, Chad, Madagascar, Botswana, Rwanda, Mozambique, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Congo and Algeria.

Also attending the weeklong meeting were members of the Health Action in Crises cluster from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

 

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