WHO/Europe and Italy discuss European health support for people affected by the crisis in north Africa

Italian health minister flies to Copenhagen to discuss contingency plans

Copenhagen, 28 February 2011

The crisis is evolving quickly, and the Minister of Health for Italy, Professor Ferruccio Fazio, was in Copenhagen on Sunday, 27 February 2011 to discuss with the WHO Regional Director for Europe, Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, how WHO/Europe can work with Italy to address the public health challenges faced by people affected by, and fleeing from, the crisis in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.

“In times of conflict, WHO/Europe has on many occasions worked to ensure that the health needs of displaced populations, and those in the host country, are met,” said Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab. “Here in WHO/Europe we are ready to provide support where and when it is needed, in cooperation with other regional offices of WHO and with governments and other agencies.”

“I decided to meet Ms Jakab as soon as possible,” said Ferruccio Fazio, “because we need to do our best to ensure that health is protected both in Italy and Europe but also to help the African populations affected by the crisis. We agreed on a series of actions, ranging from the epidemiological surveillance of the health status of people migrating to Italy, to the strengthening of the health services in the countries affected by the crisis.”

It was agreed that depending on how the situation progressed, WHO/Europe and Italy would convene a meeting in Rome on 18 March 2011 of European Member States, the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean – the WHO Region that has been most affected by unrest and violence during recent weeks – and other key players, to coordinate the help being provided, and to discuss contingency plans if the crisis escalates.

Offer of expertise and back-up

WHO/Europe discussed with the Italian Ministry of Health support for improving local health services’ preparedness through technical advice on public health operations, such as enhancing disease surveillance, early warning and monitoring, and environmental health and disease control measures, in the event of the arrival of large numbers of displaced people.

Support for the population

“Often the best support is to help our colleagues in our sister WHO Regional Office to enable the populations to access health services effectively, without having to uproot their families and flee, with all the attendant dangers this can bring,” said Ms Jakab.

As well as working with the Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, to whom it has offered support for emergency operations, WHO/Europe is coordinating closely with WHO headquarters and is in regular contact with the European Commission.

Other conflict and refugee situations

WHO/Europe has played a role in a number of major conflict situations involving displaced people such as the Balkan crisis in the 1990s, and in central Asia and the Caucasus. Its role in these situations is to work with health authorities and other agencies, including nongovernmental organizations, to coordinate the health response, and to continue that work in subsequent years to ensure that the health system can recover its strength and respond to the health needs of the population.

For more information, please contact:

Ms Viv Taylor Gee
Communications Adviser, WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 3917 12 31
Mobile: + 45 22 72 36 91
E-mail: vge@euro.who.int

Dr Guenael R. Rodier
Director, Communicable Diseases, Health Security, & Environment, WHO Regional Office for Europe,
Tel.: +45 3917 13 64
E-mail: gur@euro.who.int