Over 90 per cent of disasters around the world go unnoticed – in silence. These are too small, too inconvenient or too easily overshadowed by other events. But for the millions of people they affect, these disasters are not silent. Often, the people whose lives are changed by these recurrent disasters are already in vulnerable situations.
In the last five years (2009 – 2013), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) was called upon on 20 occasions to provide emergency financial support to National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Americas and Asia to respond to dengue outbreaks. The fund has allowed these National Societies to carry out immediate action to reduce the incidence of cases of dengue amongst the most vulnerable and at-risk communities.
The speed of action is vital in responding to emergencies. It is very important that immediate action is taken to control outbreaks, treat the people who are affected as well as raise awareness about the disease. The IFRC’s DREF ensures that immediate financial support is available for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to respond to these emergencies. In 2013, alone close to CHF 900,000 was allocated to the National Societies in Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to respond to dengue outbreaks reaching 176,900 people.
In each case, DREF enabled immediate response to the outbreak in the most affected areas. “The DREF is a valuable funding instrument for responding to health emergencies. We have seen how effective and timely this support can be to National Societies responding to peaks in the number of dengue cases. Time and again the investment has been shown to be worthwhile, with a demonstrable impact in the reduction of the number of cases and sustainable behavioural change linked to increase in knowledge,” says Xavier Castellanos, Head of Zone, IFRC in the Americas. “To maximize the impact of these activities, the National Societies have coordinated and worked in close collaboration with health authorities,” he adds.
The financial support allows the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to mobilize and train volunteers to carry out awareness raising in the communities and clean-up campaigns in coordination with national, local and regional health authorities. By mobilizing volunteers from within the affected communities the effectiveness of the action can be made sustainable and the skills and knowledge they obtain are useful in future outbreaks of dengue.
Lessons learnt and evaluation of the effectiveness of the DREF-funded operations have led to the development of best practice and identification of the most effective approaches to bring about behavioural changes in both urban and rural environments. The DREF operations have allowed the IFRC to identify the most effective methods of communicating with beneficiaries and taper the messages accordingly.
National Societies such as the Maldives and Sri Lanka have incorporated this learning into their longer term planning and contingency plans in order to be better prepared. The community health workers and volunteers need to be supported in the long-term for them to be effective agents of behaviour change in their communities.
National Society action in DREF-funded operations strengthens their partnerships with local and national health authorities and other regional or national actors and allows them a place at the table in planning, to have access to early warning of evolving high risk conditions.
“The DREF is an emergency funding mechanism. To address the underlying causes of dengue outbreaks we also need to invest in building the capacity of community health workers and collaborate with local and national actors to permanently reduce the number of cases and the economic impact of dengue,” says Simon Eccleshall, Head of disaster and crisis management department. He goes on to say, “That would be the real victory – to see the number of DREF requests for dengue outbreaks reduced and managed and contained by collective efforts of governments, donors, civil society, communities and individuals.”
Stopping dengue from spreading is our collective responsibility. Only by investing in long-term community initiatives, we will be able to put an end to the silent suffering caused by dengue.