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PAHO/WHO will support the creation of a new inter-American emergency health network

Washington, D.C.,2 October 2014 (PAHO/WHO) Representatives of ministries of health in the Americas today adopted a plan of action to improve coordination of international humanitarian assistance during emergencies and disasters, in order to facilitate a timely, effective response and save lives.

The vast majority of countries in the Americas today are capable of responding to moderate?scale emergencies and disasters with their own human and material resources. However, when events of greater magnitude strike, international assistance is still needed to supplement the efforts of affected countries.

"The goal is to save lives, prevent disabilities, and protect health, especially of women, children, older adults, and people with disabilities or in vulnerable conditions—all within the framework of equity, transparency, and inclusiveness," noted Ciro Ugarte, Regional Advisor for Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).

The creation of an international humanitarian assistance network for emergencies in the Americas is one of the actions included in the Plan of Action for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance 2014-2019, approved during PAHO's 53rd Directing Council, which is taking place in Washington, D.C., this week.

The new network will seek to streamline cooperation and reduce response times during emergencies and disasters. It will also link the health sector logistics systems of different countries and facilitate progress toward a registry system for foreign medical teams, consistent with international standards.

Under the plan of action, countries and PAHO/WHO will seek to:

  • strengthen and increase partnerships and cooperation to facilitate humanitarian assistance in health
  • establish a regional mechanism for the registry of foreign medical teams
  • have mechanisms for coordinating humanitarian assistance under the leadership of each affected country.

"Humanitarian assistance requires adequate national and international coordination mechanisms to ensure that medical care and public health interventions respect the agreements, culture, and customs of the affected countries," noted Ugarte.

The plan of action is a response to a series of country commitments made at the Pan American Sanitary Conference (PAHO's highest governing authority) and the World Health Assembly. It also responds to the need for better coordination among actors working in emergency response, a goal set in the United Nations Humanitarian Reform process and Transformative Agenda.

PAHO works with the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their populations. Founded in 1902, it is the world's oldest international public health organization. PAHO serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO and is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American system.