May 24, 2018

4 min read

World Health +SocialGood Day 3 Recap

How the World Health Organization coordinates front line response to protect the world from health crisis and respond to emergencies.

Every month, the World Health Organization screens more than 5,000 outbreak alerts. Global leaders at the World Health Assembly in Geneva have gathered to discuss the next year’s health agenda, including the levels of surveillance, coordination, and logistics needed to respond to health crisis and other emergencies.

The World Health +SocialGood program is a three-day program recorded live at the World Health Assembly. It connects global viewers with the experts working every day to create the plans and implement the strategies needed to keep our world healthy and safe. Day 1 of the conversation looked at ways that we can expand health access to create universal coverage. Day 2 explored long-term interventions that can be used to promote health worldwide. The final day of programming covered how the organization and its partners respond to health crisis and emergencies.

Day 3: Keeping the World Safe and Protecting the Vulnerable: Working in Outbreaks and Emergencies

The program analyzed four different health interventions and discussed the general themes and lessons learned from WHO’s years of expertise in crisis response. Overall, speakers emphasized the importance of planning, partnership, and access to care. Read on to learn more about these four important case studies and what we learned from the conversation:

An outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Currently there are 51 cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has led to 27 deaths. The outbreak is present in 3 separate locations, making contact tracking and other logistics especially complicated. Last week the Director-General, Dr. Tedros, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, and the WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergencies, Dr. Peter Salama, visited the town of Bikoro in the north-west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to assess the response.

Dr. Moeti and Dr. Salama joined the World Health +SocialGood program to share the insights and lessons learned gathered from that trip. Dr. Moeti spoke about complicated and high-stakes planning taking place in the country, due to the nature of the rural area of the outbreak and its proximity to a large population center. WHO partners with partners to ensure that there are a sufficient amount of people and resources deployed to assist the country in addressing the outbreak.

Health assistance for the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Since late August 2017, some 700,000 members of Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya community have been driven from their homes due to widespread violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine province. They are joining 200,000 Rohingya refugees displaced earlier in an area of Bangladesh known as Cox’s Bazar. In this region, an estimated 1 million Rohingya and 300,000 Bangladeshis need health assistance. In the nine month since this mass influx of Rohingyas, WHO has helped to maintain and replenish medicines and supplies at facilities across the settlements and helped to deliver vaccines and other services to the population.

Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the Regional Director for Southeast Asia, spoke about the vital role WHO is playing in coordinating assistance to Cox’s Bazar. She shared that they worked with over 100 partners to ensure that plans and logistics were set in place to ready the communities for monsoon season, contagious diseases, and other hurdles.

Polio Vaccination and Eradication in Syria

1 in 5 children lack access to lifesaving vaccines. WHO works with partners worldwide to distribute vaccines and fight preventable diseases. One of the most challenging places a vaccination campaign has been conducted was the recent polio outbreak in Syria. Dr. Michel Zaffran, the Director of Polio Eradication at WHO, joined World Health +SocialGood to look at the difficulties of ramping up a vaccination campaign in the middle of conflict and to share hope for the future.

Dr. Zaffran spoke about the challenges faced in finishing the fight to end polio. While the disease has been eradicated in four of the six WHO regions, every single child worldwide must be protected against the virus. This means strong delivery and surveillance systems must be in place. In conflict-ridden areas like Syria, this type of infrastructure is difficult to keep in place. However, Dr. Zaffran reminded the audience that no one thought we could eradicate polio in India, but it was accomplished: “We know the strategies work.”

Combating Influenza Worldwide

100 years ago, the Spanish flu outbreak killed 50 million people and sickened over 100 million. Although WHO was not created yet, that outbreak shows how deadly influenza can be. Today, WHO spends a significant amount of time trying to prevent influenza outbreaks and prepare countries for them if they happen. Dr. Sylvie Briand, the Director of Infectious Hazard Management at WHO, shared the strategies the organization is using to combat this everyday, dangerous disease.

There are a number of interventions that can help prevent the diseases from spreading, including vaccines and antivirals. Behavioral changes, such as washing hands and learning proper coughing etiquette, can also be used to combat influenza. WHO is working to scale up these solutions and work to cover people worldwide, especially the populations with the highest risk: young kids, the elderly, pregnant women, or people with underlying diseases.

The three days of World Health +SocialGood programming reminded us that the World Health Organization is utilizing the power of partnerships, the latest innovations, and a vast network of resources to keep our world healthy. The themes of promoting health, keeping our world safe, and spreading access were amplified across the assembly, especially in the passing of the next General Programme of Work, which is framed around three “triple billion” targets:

  • One billion more people with universal health coverage
  • One billion more people protected from health emergencies
  • One billion more people enjoying better health and well-being

Stay-tuned for the rest of the World Health Assembly to keep discussing these vital health issues. Tune in with #WHA71 and @WHO.