Emergency preparedness for mass gatherings strengthens public health capacities


On 27–28 November 2017, representatives of 7 countries from the WHO European Region, and 11 cities of the Russian Federation which will host the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup, convened in Moscow to share their experiences of planning for and hosting mass gathering events. The following 2 days were dedicated to the Russian Federation cities, with a focus on the enhancement of critical public health aspects and on the International Health Regulations (IHR).

Mass gatherings and health

Since the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, WHO has been actively engaged in supporting Member States hosting mass gathering events to minimize the associated health risks. Mass gathering events are defined as those attended by a sufficient number of people to strain the planning and response resources of a community, state or nation. When mass gatherings take place, the influx of large numbers of people and the infrastructural capacities needed to host them can challenge health services and systems. However, investments, activities and improvements made to address these challenges often provide a permanent benefit for the host countries’ public health infrastructure. The political support and additional visibility of major mass gatherings also provide an opportunity to build capacity in public health, thereby strengthening the IHR core capacities in the country.

Preparedness efforts and their beneficial legacy

The WHO technical consultation in Moscow provided a platform for countries and cities with significant experience in mass gathering events or with planned upcoming events to discuss the challenges and complexities, best practices and operational nuances of planning for and hosting mass gatherings. Strong emphasis was placed on leveraging IHR core capacities to improve preparedness and management of mass gatherings and to integrate the enhanced systems into routine health services after the conclusion of the events.

The positive, wide-ranging legacy of public health preparedness for mass gatherings includes improvements in IHR compliance, capacity and capability-building, surveillance and response, laboratory capacities, emergency medical services, health promotion, and research and scientific publication.

Participants learned how to turn mass gatherings into opportunities for building country capacities to make their health systems resilient and therefore stronger. They also learned that coordination between countries, including networking and knowledge transfer, is a key prerequisite for successful management of health and health-related aspects of mass gatherings.

WHO and the Russian Federation Ministry of Health plan to intensify their collaboration in the forthcoming period of preparations for the FIFA World Cup.