Managing an outbreak before, during and after it strikes

Published: 21 June 2012 16:15 CET
  • At ceremony in Kelo, volunteers and members of the public were shown how a simple handwashing routine can combat cholera and save lives.. IFRC.
  • The Red Cross of Chad, with support from the IFRC, has sent thousands of volunteers into communities to spread the hygiene message.IFRC.
  • Saving lives with simple handwashing. Volunteers demonstrate the routine. IFRC.
At ceremony in Kelo, volunteers and members of the public were shown how a simple handwashing routine can combat cholera and save lives.IFRC

By Sadia Kaenzig

Geneva 21 June 2012 ─ A network of more than 20 representative institutions of global outbreak response experts meet in Geneva for two days to discuss how best to exploit the full potential of their institutions to respond to major international outbreaks when they occur.

The meeting has four broad goals: to incorporate partners wealth of knowledge and experience in developing strategies and initiatives for major diseases such as cholera and dengue; to adapt plans to the changing global situation exacerbated by the current economic austerity measures, globalization, urbanization, and environment factors; to build international and country capacities towards self-reliance and improved preparedness while still remaining relevant and ready to coordinate support in major health emergencies such as the pandemic.

In his introductory remarks, Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO Assistant Director General, health security and the environment said: “In the broader context of moving towards greater resilience, and strengthening critical capacity at country level, and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) can play a successful and unique role when a country is preparing and facing outbreaks and emergencies.”

Dr Stefan Seebacher, Head of Health at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said: “GOARN has been a relevant network in identifying, managing, assessing and treating risks early. But more is needed. For the network to stay relevant, investments are needed at different levels for it to be better equipped for the future, including the use of innovative approaches.”

Epidemics of infectious diseases including diarrhoea, meningitis, yellow fever, respiratory infections, polio, viral haemorrhagic fever and others cause vast numbers of deaths and disability every year. Outbreaks of infectious diseases are more frequent in poor and overcrowded communities with lower standards of living. These conditions make it even harder to contain the disease and provide effective health care.

Since 2000, GOARN has made 1,786 deployments spanning 98 events in 92 countries, with experts from more than 320 partner institutions, including staff at WHO country offices directly involved in field activities. For more. see http://www.who.int/csr/outbreaknetwork/en/

The IFRC with its 187 member national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies has a longstanding commitment and involvement in epidemic response. 90 years ago the IFRC - at that point called the League of the Red Cross Red Crescent - was founded in the aftermath of World War I to respond more effectively to a spectacularly virulent influenza pandemic (‘Spanish flu’ as it became known) that killed up to 40 million people in 12 months. With its network of community volunteers, the Red Cross Red Crescent is best placed to prepare and to respond to epidemics within more comprehensive strategies of surveillance, immunization, treatment, advocacy and social mobilization. For more, see www.ifrc.org.

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