WHO’s Member States face a broad range of emergencies resulting from various hazards and differing in scale, complexity and international consequences. These emergencies can have extensive political, economic, social and public health impacts, with potential long-term consequences sometimes persisting for years after the emergency. They may be caused by natural disasters, conflict, disease outbreaks, food contamination, or chemical or radio-nuclear spills, among other hazards. They can undermine decades of social development and hard-earned health gains, damage hospitals and other health infrastructure, weaken health systems and slow progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Preparing for and responding effectively to such emergencies are among the most pressing challenges facing the international community.
WHO has an essential role to play in supporting Member States to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies with public health consequences. WHO also has obligations to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) as Health Cluster Lead Agency, to the International Health Regulations (2005) and to other international bodies and agreements related to emergency response.
The purpose of this Emergency Response Framework (ERF) is to clarify WHO’s roles and responsibilities in this regard and to provide a common approach for its work in emergencies. Ultimately, the ERF requires WHO to act with urgency and predictability to best serve and be accountable to populations affected by emergencies.
First, the ERF sets out WHO’s core commitments in emergency response which are those actions that WHO is committed to delivering in emergencies with public health consequences to minimize mortality and life-threatening morbidity by leading a coordinated and effective health sector response.
Second, the ERF elaborates the steps WHO will take between the initial alert of an event and its eventual emergency classification, including event verification and event risk assessment.
Third, the ERF describes WHO’s internal grading process for emergencies including the purpose of grading, the definitions of the various grades, the criteria for grading, and the steps to remove a grade.
Fourth, this paper describes WHO’s Performance Standards for emergency response: specific deliverables with timelines for completion that are used by WHO to measure its performance.
Fifth, the ERF outlines WHO’s four critical functions during emergency response: leadership, information, technical expertise and core services.
Sixth, the ERF states the role of WHO’s Global Emergency Management Team (GEMT) during emergency response, particularly related to the optimal use of Organization-wide resources, the monitoring of the implementation of relevant procedures and policies, and the management of WHO’s internal and external communications.
Seventh, the ERF outlines WHO’s Emergency Response Procedures (ERPs) that specify roles and responsibilities across the Organization to deliver on the four critical functions and the Performance Standards.
Finally, three essential emergency policies which will optimize WHO’s response are detailed: the surge policy, the Health Emergency Leader policy and the noregrets policy.
At the end of the document there are six complementary annexes. Annex 1 provides a flow chart of the grading process and Annex 2 a country-level timeline during emergency response. Annex 3 states WHO’s obligations under an Inter-Agency Standing Committee Level 3 emergency; Annex 4 sets out WHO’s Performance Standards in protracted emergencies; Annex 5 defines WHO’s commitment to institutional readiness; and Annex 6 defines WHO’s commitment to emergency risk management.