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Washington, DC, 6 November 2014 (PAHO/WHO) — The Director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, today briefed ministers of health and other authorities from throughout the Americas on actions the organization has initiated to help countries prepare for the possible arrival of an imported case of Ebola.

In a virtual meeting with more than 50 participants connected from PAHO/WHO member countries, Etienne praised the leadership shown by the region's ministers of health in preparing for Ebola. She said the goal of preparedness is to be able to identify a first case and prevent or contain local transmission of the disease.

"These efforts must be made within the framework of capacities established by the International Health Regulations, building on what our countries have already achieved," said Etienne. She urged member governments to continue their preparedness efforts, to demonstrate solidarity among countries and to involve other sectors in preparedness and any eventual response.

Among actions that PAHO/WHO has taken or is planning to strengthen alert and response capacity in the region are:

  • Creation of a special PAHO/WHO task force on Ebola
  • Establishment of a framework for strengthening Ebola preparedness in the countries
  • Activation of PAHO/WHO's Emergency Operations Center to coordinate a regional response
  • Mobilization of technical missions to 26 countries over the next two months to support preparedness efforts
  • Availability of the PAHO Strategic Fund to countries for the purchase of personal protective equipment
  • Dissemination of technical guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment and infection control
  • Virtual training on subjects including clinical management of cases, personal protective equipment, surveillance at points of entry (ports and airports) and risk communication
  • Training for trainers on case management, organization of services and personal protective equipment, to be offered in Antigua and Barbuda in December for English-speaking countries and in Chile for Spanish-speaking countries
  • A regional expert consultation on laboratory diagnosis and management of biological risks in the case of Ebola, to be held in Mexico in December
  • A series of in-person training sessions on risk communication in November and December in Barbados, Ecuador and Panama.

Etienne said Ebola presents an opportunity for countries to test their health systems and strengthen their capacities to deal not only with Ebola but with other emerging diseases, such as influenza and chikungunya.

"There may be an excess of caution, but we must be ready to rapidly identify any case that appears and to act rapidly to contain it and prevent its spread."