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Disasters: Preparedness and Mitigation in the Americas, Issue No.124, June 2017

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Regional Plan for the Americas helps shape the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in Health

This new plan builds on our work with PAHO member countries to reduce risks in the health sector and to strengthen their capacity to ensure full operation of the health system and services in times of emergencies or disasters”,1 announced Ciro Ugarte, Director of PAHO’s Department of Health Emergencies (PHE), in September 2016, once the Plan of Action for Disaster Risk Reduction 2016-2021 was approved, in accordance with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.

The purpose of the plan developed by the countries of the Americas is to continue strengthening disaster risk reduction in order to prevent deaths, diseases, disabilities, and the psychosocial impact of emergencies and disasters through people-centered actions and cross-cutting approaches: “a multi-hazard approach; a gender, equity, ethnic group, human rights, and disability approach; and shared responsibility among national and subnational institutions and authorities, and public and private sectors.”2

The reason: the American hemisphere ranks second as the region most affected by disasters, after Asia. About 20.6% of the world’s disasters between 2007 and 2016 occurred in this area, leading to 255,033 deaths, 898,816 injured, and damages amounting to over US$470,000 million.3

The most common events were water- or climate-related, causing 5.6% of deaths and over 73% of economic losses during this period. Damages caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, winds, and high tides are estimated to be between 1.2% and 1.7% of world’s gross domestic product (GDP) every year.4

Accordingly, the commitment of Member States to reduce the effects of these events was demonstrated by establishing the four strategic lines of the Plan of Action for the health sector: 1) recognizing disaster risks, 2) strengthening governance of disaster risk management, 3) promoting safe and smart hospitals, and 4) strengthening the sector’s capacity for emergency and disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.

The first strategic line involves the use of evidence-based technical and scientific information for decision-making; promoting partnerships with the private sector and academia to disseminate and share relevant information that would help reduce disaster risks in the health sector; and ensure that early warning systems and multi-hazard forecasts are people-centered.

The second strategic line involves the incorporation of disaster risk management within the health sector, with the necessary human and financial resources, and clearly defining decision-making structures, flows, and/or mechanisms at the different levels of authority, responsibility, and coordination.

The third line promotes the Safe Hospital initiative to ensure that the health service network can maintain its operating capacity during emergencies and disasters; and strengthening the actions needed to ensure that structural, nonstructural, and organizational/functional safety components meet the demands of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The fourth line states that “strengthening response capacity and early recovery from disasters in the health sector should be participatory, inclusive, and effective”5; that operations centers should enable adequate interaction between decision-making and actions; that ongoing practical training of the emergency and disaster teams should be ensured; and that emergency medical teams must meet basic quality standards, including the capacity for clinical management and the integration of national and international coordination and information management mechanisms.

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GP2017), held last May, was an opportunity to further analyze the document entitled “Plan of Action for Disaster Risk Reduction: From theory to practice in health.” The discussion panel at this event was made up of emergency and disaster and health sector professionals, as well as PAHO/WHO representatives. It identified good practices reflecting progress and also facilitated the formulation of proposals to overcome obstacles in disaster risk reduction. Opportunities were explored for cooperation among countries for the development of capacities. Recommendations to strengthen the implementation of the Plan of Action, in accordance with Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, were prioritized.

Emphasis was given, for example, to the practical importance of information exchange at national borders, the use of threats and vulnerabilities maps, the use of risk matrices and/or technology (drones or global positioning systems-GPS) to improve information analysis, the importance of adhering to the Safe Hospitals initiative prior to accreditation of a health facility, and educational campaigns so that people know how to respond in an emergency or disaster situation before the health teams reach them.

Sixty-six professionals from 20 Ministries of Health Disasters Offices attended the GP2017: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. This ensured continuity of the Plan and the health sector’s contribution to the goals of the Sendai Framework.