WHO praises role of humanitarian workers in saving lives

Kathmandu, August 19

The World Health Organisation, Regional Office for South-East Asia has said that humanitarian workers are the backbone of every effective and life-saving humanitarian response.

A press release issued by Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for South-East Asia, on the occasion of World Humanitarian Day, which was marked today, said, “Though the role of a humanitarian worker is straightforward – to provide life-saving assistance and long-term rehabilitation to communities affected by acute events – the situations they must operate in are far from it: From natural disasters such as earthquakes and cyclones to disease outbreaks, war and even radiological emergencies, functioning effectively requires a special set of skills and a deep well of fortitude.”

Whether volunteering for a local NGO, working for an international aid organisation or the United Nations, humanitarian workers are to be commended for their courage and determination, she suggested. Given the nature of humanitarian work, many humanitarian workers are also health workers.

With WHO South-East Asia’s support – and as per its Flagship Priority on scaling up emergency risk management – countries across the region have worked to enhance the preparedness of health workers at all levels to respond to domestic crises.

In recent years front-line health workers have been provided critical training in mass casualty management and basic emergency protocol, while higher-level officials have engaged in risk communication training. These and other activities must be conducted on an ongoing basis, with an emphasis on multi-sectoral cooperation and effectively utilising information communication technologies.

“Several member states have also developed highly skilled national emergency medical teams capable of operating within the WHO-led Health Cluster during acute events in the region and beyond. As member states, including Nepal, will discuss at WHO South-East Asia’s 71st session of the regional committee in early September, a WHO-led mechanism to build the capacity of and coordinate these teams could enhance domestic capacity, increase the region’s surge capacity, and reinforce regional solidarity,” Dr Kshetrapal Singh said.

According to the release, beyond good training and coordination, humanitarian workers also need effective financial and logistical support. To this end, the South-East Asia Region has created its own innovative mechanism – The South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund – to which member states contribute funds which are then disbursed in the event of an emergency.

To date, SEARHEF funds have been used in nine of the Region’s 11 member states and have covered 37 emergency operations, with disbursements of more than USD 5.9 million.

“Importantly, the efforts of humanitarian workers must be facilitated by strong health systems at all levels – especially the primary level. Strong primary health systems ensure that what is often the first point-of-care will be an effective one and that, as necessary, referral networks can function effectively. Moreover, in the event of disease outbreaks, front-line health facilities are the first line of defence in containing a disease’s spread, meaning they must have the means to act with decisive efficiency,” she said.