The WHO Health Emergencies Programme (WHE) was established in 2016, aiming “to build the capacity of Member States to manage health emergency risks and, when national capacities are overwhelmed, to lead and coordinate the international health response to contain outbreaks and to provide effective relief and recovery to affected populations”. It is built on the “one” concept – one emergencies programme, one workforce, one budget, one line of accountability, one process and set of benchmarks, to streamline its work from headquarters to country level, and thereby, make public health responses more predictable.
The achievements of the WHO African Region Health Emergencies Programme in 2016 were in three key areas:
Response to public health events improved
Better coordination in health emergencies and faster deployment of WHO experts were achieved by the implementation of the Incident Management System (IMS), which was activated in Angola (yellow fever), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (yellow fever and cholera), Cabo Verde (Zika fever), Ethiopia (El Niño), Nigeria (humanitarian crisis), Niger (Rift Valley fever), South Sudan (humanitarian crisis) and the United Republic of Tanzania (cholera). Over 300 rumours were detected through surveillance and media monitoring. Of these, at least 100 were public health events, of which 91 were outbreaks of infectious diseases. WHO supported the laboratory confirmation of these 91 infectious disease outbreaks through regional and national laboratory networks. The notifications were made through event-based and indicator-based surveillance systems, both of which have improved post-Ebola.
• In protracted emergencies, WHO supported the public health response, reaching 1.6 million internally displaced persons and 1.1 million refugees from South Sudan; 1.8 million IDPs in Nigeria; over 300 000 refugees from Burundi; over 475 000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and over 450 000 refugees and 380 000 IDPs from the Central African Republic. In response to the yellow fever outbreaks, 25 million people in Angola and 14 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were vaccinated.
• The WHO Regional Office for Africa coordinated the deployment of more than 2500 experts in 2016 to respond to major public health events including Ebola and yellow fever outbreaks and was able to deliver emergency supplies to 30 countries in need.
• Almost US$ 10 million was mobilized to address critical gaps in the response to these emergencies;
WHO coordinated responses through the Strategic Health Operations Centre; and also prepositioned and dispatched emergency health kits to the various emergencies.
Capacity and preparedness built
• Regional outbreak risk mapping was undertaken for the epidemic prone diseases in the Region in order to strengthen preparedness. This has increased the understanding of disease-specific epidemiological risks and subnational distribution of outbreaks. In addition, an in-depth analysis was undertaken on the potential for Zika virus disease outbreaks, with countries classified as being at high, medium or low risk with associated recommended preparedness activities.
• Using the newly developed Joint External Evaluation (JEE) tool, WHO and partners engaged with nine countries (Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and the United Republic of Tanzania) to assess their capacities to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to public health threats. The JEE identified gaps in the International Health Regulations (2005) core capacities and informed the development of comprehensive country plans to address these gaps.
• WHO also conducted Vulnerability and Risk Assessment Mapping (VRAM) in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Sudan. This ensured that preparedness efforts were targeted and that the best use was made of available resources to reach communities most in need, while also enhancing the health systems’ capacity to cope with emergencies.
• In order to better coordinate national preparedness for, and response to public health events and emergencies, the WHO Regional Office for Africa trained 27 countries on the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre (PHEOC) framework, supported 13 countries to develop plans to implement the PHEOCs and trained 12 countries on the new incident management system and operations for management of public health emergencies