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WHO/AFRO Issues Guidance on Preparing for & Responding to Public Health Events (May 13 2014)

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  • WHO/AFRO Issues Guidance on Preparing for & Responding to Public Health Events (May 13 2014)

    [Source: World Health Organization, Regional Office for Africa, full page: (LINK).]


    WHO/AFRO Issues Guidance on Preparing for & Responding to Public Health Events

    by elombatdaniel@me.com (ELOMBAT Daniel)


    What is a public health event (PHE) ? How can Member States more effectively prepare for, and respond to, PHEs which now occur fairly frequently in the WHO African Region?

    These and related questions are answered in a publication entitled “Public Health Events of Unknown Etiology: A framework for response in the African region”.

    The guidance document, just issued by the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville was developed in close collaboration with USAID, the United States Centers for Disease Control and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), a technical partnership of institutions which provide technical support to countries for outbreak response.

    WHO defines a PHE as any event
    • that may have negative consequences for human health, including those that have not yet led to disease or illness but have the potential to do so, and require a coordinated response.

    The cause or origin of PHEs is not known when they first occur, making scientists and researchers refer to them as PHEs of initially unknown etiology (IUE). This means PHEs for which the causes have not been determined.

    What, one may ask, makes the issue of this publication timely and important?

    The answer is embedded in background information contained in the 40-page guide.

    In the WHO African Region, it says, an average of 80 to 100 public health events were reported between 2000 and 2012. These include infectious disease outbreaks of known or unknown causes, moderate or severe malnutrition, natural and human-made disasters, animal disease outbreaks, and toxins and chemical exposures.

    However, solid technical guidance to address this challenge in the Region is presently in very short supply.

    Says Dr Francis Kasolo, Director of the Disease Prevention and Control Cluster at WHO/AFRO:

    “There is currently a dearth of guidance related to appropriate steps in the early phases of detection, reporting, alert management, field investigation and response to PHEs.

    “Therefore, this concise, easy-to-use technical framework has deliberately set out the modus operandi on how countries, working with various partners can effectively prepare for, and respond to, PHEs.

    Accordingly, the Framework proposes and addresses, in detail, the three phases for responding to a PHE in the African Region.

    These are:
    • Phase 1: Preparedness –This section outlines 8 steps aimed at increasing a country’s ability to respond to a PHE.
    • Phase 2: Response – This section deals with the following: alert management (16 steps), field investigation (10 steps) and field response (3 steps).
    • Phase 3: Monitoring and Evaluation - This section deals with monitoring and evaluation, which occurs simultaneously with Phases I and 2.

    The Manager of the Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response Programme at WHO/AFRO, Dr Benido Impouma, says that the technical and managerial guide is meant for the use of senior level decision makers in Member States, as well as for the members of national Emergency Management Committees and Rapid Response Teams.

    He also explains that the Framework is designed to supplement more detailed information contained in the 2012 edition of the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) Technical Guidelines, also developed by WHO/AFRO.

    Dr Kasolo is confident that the guidance document will go a long way in addressing the challenge that PHEs has posed to countries in our Region over the years.

    He says:

    “My expectation is that the use of these guidelines will enhance country-level emergency preparedness and response capacity, including preparedness to manage PHE alerts before they become a national, regional or international threat to public health”.

    The director of the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threat programme , Dr. Dennis Carroll, agrees: His words: “Prompt response to a public health event through a systematic collection, management, analysis, interpretation, dissemination and use of data contributes to stimulating public health action for the public good.

    “I see the issue of this guidance document by WHO/AFRO as an important contribution to protecting the health of Africans and the world at large.”

    Related document: Public health events of initially unknown etiology: A framework for preparedness and response in African Region [1.34 MB]


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