In a critical step for emergency preparedness across the WHO South-East Asia Region, Member countries yesterday In Colombo agreed to establish a dedicated funding stream aimed at building preparedness for health emergencies in the Region, which is one of the most disaster-prone.
“To date, post-disaster funding through South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund has done an excellent job of helping countries respond to health emergencies once they’ve occurred, as we saw most recently in Nepal and Sri Lanka. The new funding stream will allow countries to invest in infrastructure and human resources that will enhance preparedness,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, said.
In recent years earthquakes, cyclones and floods have caused health emergencies in the South-East Asia Region. The Region has also been threatened by a range of emerging diseases, including SARS, MERS CoV, pandemic influenza and Zika virus.
Establishing a joint funding stream under the South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund (SEARHEF) to help countries better prepare for such events was seen by Member countries as a key priority for the Regional health agenda. At present, SEARHEF funds are disbursed only once a disaster has occurred.
“Enhancing health security is a critical component of our public health mission, and a core part of WHO’s work in the South-East Asia Region. The new funding stream for emergency preparedness established by Member countries is an expression of the solidarity shared within the Region, as well as recognition that preparedness is less costly than response,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
Another resolution passed by the session called for promoting physical activity across the Region. Insufficient physical activity is a major contributor to rising rates of non-communicable diseases in the Region, with four-fifth of adolescents not getting enough of it.
“Effective promotion of physical activity needs commitment at the highest level, with leadership from the health sector absolutely crucial. In this Regional Committee Meeting, Health Ministers have led by example, being role models for physical activity by themselves,” Dr. Khetrapal Singh said.
The session also passed a resolution on health workforce strengthening which is vital to achieving universal health coverage – a key part of the Sustainable Development Goal of leaving no one behind. At present, the density of health care providers in the Region is 12.5 per 10 000 population, which is less than the WHO recommended minimum of 44.5 per 10 000 population.
“Expanding health workforces across the Region is one part of what countries in the Region are trying to achieve, but we also need to increase staff retention, particularly in rural areas, as well as provide further training to health workers to enhance their skills,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
The Regional Committee meeting is WHO South-East Asia Region’s highest decision-making body, and includes health ministers and senior health ministry officials of the 11 Member countries of the Region – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.