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World Health Organization (WHO)

UN & International Organization

WHO, as a specialized agency of the United Nations, is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. WHO’s constitution came into force on 7 April 1948. WHO is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda,...



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WHO, as a specialized agency of the United Nations, is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. WHO’s constitution came into force on 7 April 1948.

WHO is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. It works to ensure healthy lives and promotes well-being for all at all ages towards towards the attainment of the highest possible level of health.

The WHO Health Emergencies Programme mission is to help countries, and to coordinate international action, to prevent, prepare for, detect, rapidly respond to, and recover from outbreaks and emergencies.

Disaster Reduction Goal

- To support a multi-sectoral approach to improving health outcomes for people at risk of emergencies and disasters by reducing: deaths, injuries, illness and disability; damage to hospitals and health infrastructure; and disruption to health care services

- To support countries in building national capacities in all-hazard health emergency and disaster risk management, and in strengthening the resilience of health systems and continuity of people-centred health services – including physical integrity, safety and functionality of health facilities –before, during and after emergencies

- To strengthen the resilience of communities and enhance national self-reliance in managing emergency risks and actual emergencies.

Policies and Programmes in DRR

The World Health Assembly (WHA), the supreme governing body of WHO decided at its 69th Session to welcome the progress made in the development of the new Health Emergencies Programme, the elaboration of an implementation plan and timeline for the new Programme, and the establishment of the Emergencies Oversight and Advisory Committee (WHA69.9).

The WHA adopted WHA Resolution (WHA64.10) on “Strengthening national and community health emergency and disaster management capacity and resilience of health systems” in May 2011. Resolutions have been passed by every WHO Regional Committee over the past 20 years to reinforce the mandate given to WHO and to strengthen capacities of Member States.

The commitment of Member States and WHO for health emergency and disaster risk management is expressed in various international agreements, frameworks and resolutions for specific hazards and areas of public health, such as the International Health Regulations (2005), mental health, disability, food safety, non-communicable diseases, environmental health, climate change and health, radiation safety and chemical safety.

Strategic Objective 12 for the Organization-wide Programme area Country Health Emergency Preparedness & International Health Regulations in WHO’s 2016-2017 biennial global work plan has two outputs that focus on WHO activities to support countries in the areas of health sector risk reduction, including emergency preparedness, and to build institutional capacity in WHO for emergency preparedness and response, as follows: 12.2.1: Monitor, evaluate and objectively assess country core capacities; and 12.2.2: Assist countries to develop national plans and critical core capacities for all-hazard health emergency preparedness, readiness and disaster risk management for health.

In 2016, the 68th Session of the Regional Committee of WHO for the Americas - 55th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organization - approved the Plan of Action for Disaster Risk Reduction 2016-2021 (CD55/17, Rev. 1), that recognized the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and the Agenda for Humanity, as well as the reform of the response capacity of the World Health Organization (WHO) in outbreaks and emergencies.

In 2014, the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific adopted the Western Pacific Regional Framework for Disaster Risk Management for Health (RC65/9).

In 2012, the Regional Committee for Africa adopted a resolution (AFR/RC62/R1) to establish a Disaster Risk Management: A Health Sector Strategy for the African Region in order to institutionalize disaster risk management in the health sector, focusing on preparedness for, and response to emergencies and post-emergency recovery. AFRO has developed and applied several tools for Disaster Risk Management for Health (DRM-H) including guidelines for conducting Capacity Assessments, Vulnerability and Risk Assessment Mapping (VRAM) and a training curriculum framework.

Membership in Key Networks

• UNDRR Senior Leadership Group for Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience and UNDRR Inter-Agency Group
• UNDRR Global and Regional Platforms and equivalent bodies (Arab States, Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Pacific)
• UNDRR Science and Technical Advisory Group
• Capacity for Disaster Reduction Initiative (CADRI)
• Thematic platform on health emergency and disaster risk management
• Interagency Standing Committee and subsidiary bodies
• Global Health Cluster
• International Programme on Chemical Safety
• Emergency Medical Teams Initiative
• Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN)
• Global Health Security Agenda (observer)
• WHO’s Radiation Emergency Medical Preparedness and Assistance Network (REMPAN)
• Global Framework for Climate Services

National Counterpart

Ministry of health

Disaster Reduction Focal Point(s)

• Disaster Risk Management Focal Point, Country Health Emergency Preparedness and International Health Regulations Department, WHO, Geneva (WHE/CPI)
• Country Health Emergency Preparedness and International Health Regulations, WHO Regional Office for Africa (AFRO), Brazzaville, Congo
• Country Health Emergency Preparedness and International Health Regulations, WHO Regional Office for Europe (EURO), Copenhagen, Denmark
• Country Health Emergency Preparedness and International Health Regulations, WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO), Cairo, Egypt
• Country Health Emergency Preparedness and International Health Regulations, WHO Regional Office for South-east Asia (SEARO), New Delhi, India
• Country Health Emergency Preparedness and International Health Regulations, WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific (WPRO), Manila, The Philippines



Other activities

Understanding risk (Sendai Framework Priority 1)

WHO provides guidance and assistance to countries on assessing risks to health and health systems using analyses of hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities and provides global reports on country capacities for health emergency and disaster risk management. WHO coordinates the implementation of four components of the International Health Regulations (2005) Monitoring and Evaluation Framework (IHR MEF), i.e., Annual Reporting, Simulation Exercises, After Action Reviews and Joint External Evaluations. WHO plays an active role in global surveillance and monitoring of potential threats to health, particularly from biological, natural and technological (such as chemical and radiological hazards) sources to enable early detection and warning to prompt early action by the public, health workers and other sectors. WHO has assisted countries with the application of tools for monitoring and assessing capacities, which serve as the basis for capacity development plans.

Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk (Priority 2)

WHO provides technical guidance and support to Ministries of Health for strengthening all-hazards health and multi-sectoral disaster risk management policies, strategies and legislation. At global level, WHO is facilitating the development of an all-hazards framework on emergency and disaster risk management for health , which describes key principles and the capacities which countries should have in place for managing the public health risks of emergencies. It also assists Ministries of Health in fulfilling their role in promoting whole-of-society action asserting that no one is left behind (e.g., children, older people, people with disabilities, etc.) and describes the roles and responsibilities of actors in health and other sectors which contribute to positive health outcomes.

Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience (Priority 3)

At the core of investing in disaster risk reduction for health resilience are measures to reduce poverty and inequities by addressing the social determinants of health and strengthening health systems aimed at improving the underlying health status of people and managing the risks associated with natural hazards, inclusive of outbreaks and the health effects of climate change as well as human-made hazards. WHO is working with health systems colleagues, Ministries of Health and technical departments to integrate health emergency risk management in all aspects of health systems, including national health plans, UN Development Assistance Frameworks and technical areas. Technical assistance is also designed to strengthen the capacity of health systems to deliver safe and quality health services before, during and after emergencies, for example, in trauma care, mental health, environmental health, disease surveillance and response, non-communicable diseases and nutrition.
WHO provides support to countries in making hospitals safer and better prepared for emergencies and disasters through the Safe Hospitals Initiative. Guidance, training and tools are available, to assess the safety and preparedness of existing health facilities (using the Hospital Safety Index), and for developing new hospitals with a sufficient level of protection to remain being functional at maximum capacity and deliver uninterrupted health services in emergency situations. WHO also provides guidance on the protection of other vital infrastructure, and facilities that have the potential to generate risks to public health, such as water and sanitation systems and chemical facilities, and that should apply risk management measures.

WHO works with Member States, academia and other learning institutions in all Regions on the development and delivery of regional and national learning programmes and technical guidance to strengthen the knowledge, skills and attitudes of professionals in health and other sectors for managing the health risks and consequences of disasters. Risk communication for health workers, households and communities at risk also promotes healthy behaviours (e.g., keeping survival kits, simulating drills and evacuation plans) to reduce risks and prepare for emergencies and disasters.

Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction (Priority 4)

WHO provides support for emergency and disaster preparedness including the operational readiness of Member States and WHO. This support includes all-hazards response planning, contingency planning, training, pre-positioning of health supplies, development of surge capacity (including the Emergency Medical Teams and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network), and exercises for health care professionals and other emergency service personnel. WHO supports Member States and partners in the development and implementation of plans for health systems recovery including measures to reduce risks of future disasters through application of best practices and lessons learnt documented from previous disasters.

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