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Need commitment to health sector recovery after disasters

WHO calls for stronger leadership and commitment to health sector recovery after disasters

Iwate, 5 March 2013 – The World Health Organization (WHO) urges countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region to invest strategically in sustainable health sector recovery from major disasters.

Health sector recovery from a disaster should go beyond reconstruction and rehabilitation. It should maximize the opportunity to build back better health systems as a critical component of social services.

To identify key strategic directions towards health sector recovery, about 70 health emergency and disaster managers from several countries in the Western Pacific Region are expected to attend the International Conference on Health Sector Recovery from Disasters on 5–6 March 2013 in Iwate, Japan.

Organised by WHO, in partnership with the Iwate Medical University and Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, the conference will have countries share experiences and lessons learnt on health sector recovery operations and identify ways to raise awareness and enhance advocacy efforts on the importance of the health sector recovery.

Recovery from disaster: an opportunity to build back better health system
“The recovery agenda of the health sector should take into account the damages and losses generated by the disaster to our health system, while at the same time, addressing major gaps and challenges that existed prior to the disaster,” says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “I urge all countries to enhance the recovery efforts and provide appropriate resources to rebuild better and safer health systems for our people.”

Disasters affect all
Disasters affect all countries, and the impact can be devastating to human lives and health. On average, the Western Pacific Region bears 21% of the natural disasters that occur annually and 43% of the corresponding economic losses (2007–2011 data). Recent experiences in the Region, such as the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand in 2011 and in Wenchuan China in 2008 have proven that major disasters can overwhelm even well-prepared, experienced and wealthy nations.

“The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake provided us with experiences and lessons that would be critical in strengthening our capacities to mitigate the impact of natural hazards and to drive complex health sector recovery processes. In addition, we definitely reconfirmed that the urgent response to a disaster in the very early phase would absolutely be a key to saving many more lives in the affected areas,” says Dr Akira Ogawa, President and CEO of Iwate Medical University. “We hope to share our stories, and learn from the experiences of our neighbours.”

Shift from emergency management to emergency risk management in dealing with disasters
The traditional focus of the health sector has been on the response to emergencies. The ongoing challenge is to broaden the focus of disaster risk management for health from that of response and recovery to prevention and mitigation.

“We need to shift from an emergency management to an emergency risk management approach for health emergencies. This requires strong government leadership and commitment, sustainable human and financial investment, multisectoral coordination and collaboration, and effective partnerships between governmental bodies and development and humanitarian partners,” Dr Shin Young-soo says. “Most importantly it requires work in normal times to identify and address the vulnerabilities of populations at risk and improve the local capacities of health systems and of communities.”

People-centred health sector recovery
The burden of disasters falls disproportionately on vulnerable populations, namely the poor, ethnic minorities, the elderly and people with disabilities. The recovery measures should embrace equity, address pre-existing inequities and inequalities, and prevent the emergence of new forms of inequities brought by national and international relief and recovery funding.

“Our experience in Japan highlights that it is imperative for people to be the heart of our post-disaster health sector recovery process, and for high-risk populations to be prioritized,” says Dr Noriaki Ohuchi, Dean of the Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine.

Disaster risk management for health is everybody’s business
No single organization or government agency can address the full requirements of the recovery process. Recovery from disasters requires an integrated and multisectoral effort, with the health sector playing a critical role. Recovery plans should ensure that public and private resources are made available in a timely manner and are used efficiently and effectively. Partnerships should drive the health sector recovery process to ensure that it is inclusive, responsive and sustainable.

“We have high hopes that the two-day discussion on how best to advocate for health sector recovery as a vital component in the overall post-disaster recovery processes would be enriched by the experiences of our Member States in the Region,” says Dr Li Ailan, Director of Health Security and Emergencies WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. “We appreciate the support of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan and the collaboration of our Member States and partner organizations in working together in increasing awareness and advocating for more leadership and support to health sector recovery.”

About the International Conference on Health Sector Recovery from Disasters
The conference is organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), in partnership with Iwate Medical University and Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine on 5–6 March 2013 in Iwate, Japan.

About 70 representatives, including senior health officials, from the Region’s countries and areas are expected to attend the conference. Among the agenda items up for discussion will be lessons learnt from health sector recovery operations and identification of key strategic directions for health sector recovery post-disasters.

ENDS

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