IFRC


68th World Health Assembly: Agenda item 16.1: Communicable diseases

Published: 21 May 2015

Agenda item 16.1: 2014 Ebola virus disease outbreak and follow-up to the Special Session of the

Executive Board on Ebola (Ebola Document A68/25)

Statement by Panu Saaristo, Emergency Health, IFRC Health Department

M/Ms Chair, Distinguished Delegates,

The International Federation of  Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) wishes to thank the Director-General for the report on WHO’s work in large-scale emergencies in document A68/23 and the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel in document A68/25. The many Level 3 emergencies and the West Africa  Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak have demonstrated that the WHO has a critical role to play in ensuring technical capacity and leadership support to Member States  in order to have a faster, more flexible and well-coordinated response in public health emergencies of scale. With reference to this, we would like to share our views on two important elements, namely the creation of a Global Emergency Health Workforce and the Foreign Medical Teams Initiative.

The IFRC welcomes all ambitions to strengthen WHO’s  emergency structures,  systems, capacities and surge capacity as the global health emergency leader. We are keenly following the discussion about a Global Emergency Health Workforce that aims at providing high-quality humanitarian assistance in a timely and predictable manner. Various models are being discussed. We as the Red Cross and Red Crescent are also looking at how to strengthen our internal capacity for future health emergencies and how to refine our emergency response tools to adapt to the particular needs of large scale health emergencies. We are strong supporters of the health emergency lead role of the WHO; nevertheless, the essential role of the WHO must be complemented by a proven capacity to operationalize the policy and technical decisions being taken by public and technical authorities. Civil society organizations such as National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies provide both of these features, an operational arm to implement policy and technical decisions and a source of intelligence about their effects. As a member of the Global Health Cluster, the IFRC wishes to offer its support, its operational strength and the knowledge from our global network to work  in complementarity and in partnership with the WHO in the design of the Global Emergency Health Workforce, and looks forward to exploring future ways of collaborating.

IFRC has been part of the Foreign Medical Teams initiative since its inception in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake 2010. We are keen supporters of establishing and endorsing global standards in humanitarian health assistance. Experiences from the Philippines, West Africa and Nepal where the Foreign Medical Team coordination has been put in action are largely positive, and the coordination mechanism is a powerful tool for advocating for appropriate standards in emergency health assistance. However, it must be remembered that the preamble of the Foreign Medical Team initiative is in the sudden onset crisis situation, where a large influx of Foreign Medical Teams with surgical services is anticipated during the first few days and weeks.  The general language and the vocabulary of the Foreign Medical Team products are based on this reality, leaving large areas of humanitarian health response incompletely discussed. Therefore, we should be cautious not to subordinate large parts of humanitarian health action to the medicalized concept of the Foreign Medical Teams without significant further development of the concept itself,  addressing public health components such as non-communicable diseases, mental health, communicable diseases such as HIV, sexual and reproductive health, together with coordination and capacity building issues highlighting the role of national civil society organizations that in 100 per cent of the cases are responding to the crisis before any Foreign Medical Team, since they are on the ground before, during and after the crisis. We also believe that the many activities of humanitarian health partners in and outside  the Global Health Cluster – many with long-standing and significant public health programmes being implemented in collaboration with local civil society organizations – cannot be captured in the concept of a Foreign Medical Team alone.

Ensuring global surge capacity is important, but it must be done in ways that build local capacity, that sustain trust among communities and that underpin the role of community health workers who extend the reach and impact the public health system. No standard solution or preconceived foreign model can deal with public health emergencies of scale. Where we have had success it has developed from an open and honest dialogue with communities. Success has come where communities truly were our partners. Not merely mobilized but engaged. Whatever structure and new capacity emerges out of the shared experience of the West Africa EVD outbreak, it must anticipate and facilitate the interaction between public policy makers and community-based action and feedback.

M/Ms Chair, we the IFRC with our 189 members are ready to support this global effort with our millions of volunteers at the community level, bringing government efforts all the way to the most vulnerable people.

Thank you.

 

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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 190 member National Societies. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright