From emergency operations to recovery and development

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WHO delivers medical supplies to a Syrian hospital

Conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic and the knock-on effects in Turkey, as well as the unrest in eastern Ukraine, are putting unprecedented pressure on affected populations in terms of social and economic disruption and health shortfalls. Health services are interrupted and health facilities are damaged. Attacks on hospitals, health workers and humanitarian convoys represent a major infringement of human rights.

In the third of a series of features on humanitarian response, we look at WHO/Europe’s and partners’ work on protracted humanitarian crises – from prevention and preparedness to response and recovery – as part of the new Health Emergencies Programme.

WHO’s role in humanitarian crises

WHO/Europe has solid experience and experience in managing the humanitarian crises in the Syrian Arab Republic (through its field presence in Gaziantep, Turkey) and Ukraine since they began.

“We lead the health response that provides life-saving interventions to people in need. Concretely, this means that we set the standards of care, offer technical guidance and mobilize funds. We also coordinate the work of a number of health partners on the ground delivering medical supplies, providing health care, vaccinating communities and training medical staff”, says Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director of the Division of Communicable Diseases and Health Security at WHO/Europe. “Most importantly, we link operations with recovery and development, working with countries to make sure that their health systems become fully capable to cope with health emergencies.”

The new Health Emergencies Programme enables WHO to work as a fully operational agency through a common structure across the organization. When national capacities are overstretched, WHO uses its standing infrastructure at country, regional and global levels to provide relief to affected people.

WHO’s role in the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkey

Since 2013, the WHO field presence in Gaziantep, Turkey has served as an operational hub for addressing Syrian health needs. From there, WHO coordinates the health response in northern Syria as part of their whole-of-Syria approach and leads health partners supporting Turkish authorities to provide health care to Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Through cross-border operations from Turkey, humanitarian aid reaches northern Syria. In 2016 so far, 177 tonnes of emergency supplies, worth US$ 1.7 million, have been delivered, supporting 175 facilities operated by 19 partners. WHO and partners support the early detection and treatment of infectious diseases, organize vaccination campaigns and establish a sustainable line of essential medicines for child health, mental health, noncommunicable diseases and malnutrition.

However, health operations are often challenged – including by attacks on health care facilities, humanitarian convoys and warehouses. “We strongly condemn attacks on humanitarian and health workers, as well as civilians, in the strongest possible terms. People have a full right to access health and humanitarian support”, comments Dr Dorit Nitzan, Emergency Health Coordinator at WHO/Europe.

In Turkey, WHO works closely with the government to provide health prevention, treatment and advice to Syrian refugees. There are approximately 2.7 million refugees in Turkey, and 1 in 10 is living in a camp. To improve their access to health care, 70 migrant health centres have been established and WHO has organized training for Syrian doctors and nurses who can offer health services to patients in their own language. WHO continues to provide technical and financial support for outbreak response and immunization campaigns, medical equipment and medicines, health needs assessments and information materials for refugees.

Ukraine: a humanitarian emergency that demands attention

WHO has been leading the emergency health response operations in Ukraine since February 2014. In the past 18 months, over 2 million patients have been treated using WHO-delivered supplies. WHO’s mobile medical teams – the only source of health care for many displaced people in Ukraine – have conducted medical consultations for over 250 000 patients.

Despite this extensive support, most of the 1 million people who had to leave their homes still lack basic health care. Main health needs include access to life-saving medicines, treatment for chronic diseases, vaccinations and access to diagnosis and therapy for tuberculosis and HIV. Yet the attention of the international community and funds to respond to this humanitarian emergency are plummeting.

WHO will continue its response to the emergency in Ukraine, and will also look beyond the crisis to focus on Ukraine’s development and rehabilitation.

Member States dedicated to the new Health Emergencies Programme

Member States discussed the new Health Emergencies Programme and its operations at global and European levels at the 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe. They welcomed the new Programme and expressed their determination to make it work under WHO’s leadership.

“Health emergencies are a topic close to our heart, and we are committed to strengthen our capacities for preparedness and response”, said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.