Fund Created for Southeast Asia Health Emergency Preparedness

Earthquakes, cyclones, and floods have caused health emergencies in the region in recent years, and emerging diseases that include SARS, MERS CoV, pandemic influenza, and Zika virus also have threatened residents in the region.

Calling it "a critical step for emergency preparedness across the WHO South-East Asia Region," the World Health Organization reports that member countries have agreed to set up a dedicated funding stream to build preparedness for health emergencies in that 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," said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of WHO South-East Asia.

Earthquakes, cyclones, and floods have caused health emergencies in the region in recent years, and emerging diseases that include SARS, MERS CoV, pandemic influenza, and Zika virus also have threatened residents in the region. 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 region's health agenda because, as of now, SEARHEF funds are disbursed only after 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," Singh said.

Other resolutions passed by the session called for promoting physical activity across the region and building up the region's health care workforce. "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," Singh explained, adding that the current density of health care providers in the region is 12.5 per 10,000 people, well below 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," he said.

The meeting included health ministers and senior health ministry officials of the 11 member countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor-Leste.

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