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Quito, Ecuador, 9 December 2014 (PAHO/WHO). Professionals from 11 countries of the Americas are in Quito, Ecuador, this week for a training workshop on risk communication organized by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). The two-day workshop (December 9 and 10) is part of efforts to ensure that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are prepared to respond effectively to potential imported cases of Ebola and other public health emergencies.

Epidemiologists and communicators from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela are participating in the workshop, which seeks to strengthen risk communication capacities within the framework of the International Health Regulations (IHR), as part of emergency response plans for Ebola.

Mesa redonda

"PAHO/WHO is committed to helping to strengthen the abilities of the countries to respond to and contain Ebola cases," PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne told participants in a recorded message.

This week's workshop in Ecuador follows two earlier PAHO/WHO risk communication workshops in November: one in Barbados for participants from the English-speaking Caribbean, and another in Panama for participants from Central America.

The Quito workshop is focused on South American countries and emphasizes the strategic role of risk communication during public health emergencies. Participants will share their experiences working to improve their countries' preparedness for Ebola. They will also share epidemiological information on chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that causes high fever and joint pain, which first appeared in the Caribbean last December and has now spread to other countries of the region.

"Risk communication must be an integral part of the process of planning, developing, and implementing institutional risk management plans in the context of public health emergencies," said Gina Tambini, PAHO/WHO Representative in Ecuador, in opening this week's workshop. "Planning is successful only if it involves teamwork. Hence the importance of this workshop, which brings together professionals from different areas involved in the response to Ebola."

Ecuador's Deputy Minister for Public Health, David Acurio, said the Ebola epidemic in West Africa "forces us to think about what we are communicating and what the underlying interests are." He added: "Risk communication needs to address the most urgent challenges as well as to focus on longer-term needs."

Scaling up national capabilities is part of the surveillance and response requirements of the IHR, a set of rules that were agreed to by all WHO Member States to help prevent and confront severe public health risks that can cross borders and threaten populations around the world.

PAHO/WHO has promoted a series of actions aimed at helping the countries of the Americas detect, prevent and contain the spread of Ebola in the event of an imported case. PAHO/WHO has also organized training courses in Chile and Antigua and Barbuda for doctors and nurses on clinical management of the disease.

West Africa's Ebola outbreak was declared a public health emergency of international concern by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on August 8. As of December 8, more than 17,800 cases and 6,300 deaths had been reported, the majority in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In the Americas, the United States is the only country that has reported imported cases of Ebola to date.

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. It serves as the specialized health agency of the Inter-American System and as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.