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Logistics Cluster Downstream Logistics in Pandemics

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1. Introduction

This document has been prepared for:

• humanitarian logistics managers (at HQs and in the field) responsible for preparedness in the operations of their respective organizations; and

• Logistics Cluster staff responsible for helping countries prepare for pandemics.

Pandemics require swift, multi-faceted responses. The aim of medical intervention is to care for patients and contain the disease outbreak. The aim of the logistics response is to enable and support the medical intervention.

As with all natural disasters, there is no business as usual: infrastructure, services and supply chains are disrupted, and local staff and subcontractors’ staff may be severely depleted. Movement restrictions, essential to disease containment, add another layer of complexity. So, too, does the fact that staff must be protected from a highly infectious disease.

Given these factors, pandemic preparedness and response is best anchored in the humanitarian cluster system. This view was supported by Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Principals who, in late 2016, ratified a Level 3 (L3) activation protocol specifically for large-scale infectious disease outbreaks. While the protocol recognizes that both IASC and non-IASC actors will contribute to L3 responses; core responsibilities are reserved for WHO’s Director-General of WHO, OCHA’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, and IASC Principals.

Pandemic preparedness is not an end in itself; rather, it is a process intended to enhance emergency response capability. One of its most important purposes is to cultivate a shared understanding of risks and their likely impact on an operating environment.

An important development in this respect is the World Health Organization’s Joint External Evaluation Tool. Introduced in 2016, it is a mechanism to assess and measure a country’s capacity to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to public health threats. It is designed to ensure transparency and mutual accountability among International Health Regulations implementers, and by scoring countries on a range of common indicators it provides a formal framework and strong motivation for improving preparedness. Crucially, Joint External Evaluations (JEEs) will be repeated every five years to ensure that progress is made.

Results published so far indicate that for the foreseeable future, international assistance will still be necessary when fast-moving pandemics occur. Therefore, there is scope for organizations to combine their own preparedness efforts with support for JEE follow-up actions in at-risk countries.

Whether at organizational or national level, it is important to note that detailed emergency response planning should only be undertaken if a risk is almost certain and is well defined. In other cases, mainstreaming a minimum level of emergency preparedness is more effective.

Achieving the necessary level of emergency preparedness is not a one-off, standalone activity. Over time, countries’ risk profiles and humanitarian situations change; so, too, do organizations’ operational capabilities, partnerships, and relationships with national governments. Contingency plans for emergency response must adapt accordingly.

It is important, therefore, to acknowledge that pandemic preparedness requires a long-term commitment of both financial and human resources. Institutional knowledge, skills and supply chains must be maintained and kept up-to-date. All actors likely to be involved should work together to enhance collective preparedness.
Collaboration and coordination are key.