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Building a global health emergency workforce for a better response

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WHO is making a difference in saving lives and preventing disabilities in sudden onset disasters and outbreaks through the rapid deployment and coordination of quality assured Emergency Medical Teams. © OCHA

February 2016

When a large-scale disaster strikes and national resources are overstretched, the World Health Organization’s new Global Emergency Medical Team (EMT) gets skilled staff rapidly to the scene.

WHO’s EMT Classification List sets minimum standards for international health workers and allows teams to clearly outline their services and skills.

“Once registered and vetted on the system, WHO can match and deploy the most appropriately skilled medical team to a particular disaster at the request of the affected country,” says Dr Ian Norton, who leads the work on EMTs at WHO.

Since WHO launched the EMT List in July 2015, more than 57 organizations or teams from 23 countries have applied to be listed. By mid-2016, WHO expects to have 100 medical teams signed up and ready for swift deployment.

The inauguration of the European Medical Corps on 15 February is the most recent addition to the list. WHO has been working closely with the European Union to establish standards to classify and register medical teams from countries within the European Union. As well as medical teams, these teams also include logistics teams with the skills to rebuild damaged hospitals, provide incident managers and information managers as well as running mobile laboratories.

WHO’s Flavio Salio, explains the process saying, “Any health worker coming from another country to support the response needs to be a part of a team; individuals are not deployed. Each team must be adequately trained and self-sufficient so that resources are not taken from the affected country.”

Governments can select the type of medical team they need. Teams can meet needs ranging from trauma todisease outbreaks to rehabilitation and other care. In previous responses such as the Haiti earthquake (2010) and the South Asia tsunami (2004), some foreign teams arrived without informing the national health authorities or coordinating with other international responders. This often resulted in duplication of efforts and placed a burden on the local services. The registry will allow for a more effective response and better coordination between aid providers and recipients.

EMTs played a critical role in supporting the cyclone response in Vanuatu. “This new system allowed us to quickly respond to the cyclone in Vanuatu,” says Dr Norton. “Just 2 days after the cyclone hit, we were able to deploy 20 teams (including more than 50 doctors, 40 nurses, 24 paramedics and 12 midwives) to provide assistance.” The system also made a big difference in responding to the earthquake in Nepal where 98% of 149 medical teams were registered and jointly coordinated by WHO and the Ministry of Health and Population.

Countries receiving EMTs are not the only ones to benefit. The country or organization deploying a team has greater credibility to mobilize resources for deployment, and easier registration and logistic support upon arrival. This enables them to be up and running, providing urgent health care, as fast as possible.

Organizations wanting to register on WHO’s EMT Classification List, please send and email to: