Europe Plans To Improve Health Systems Preparedness for Crises

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The WHO European Region can no longer rely on fragmented responses to the health challenges arising from crises. When human security is at risk, dramatically increasing demands tend to overwhelm health systems. Representatives of the Member States in the Region, meeting this week in Copenhagen, Denmark at the annual session of the WHO European governing body, are discussing common plans for strengthening the Region's capacity to prepare for and respond to crises. These plans include a strategic framework for action to strengthen health and security at a pan-European level.

Serious health crises have struck the Region over the past two decades. Between 1990 and 2006, 1469 disasters caused 95 700 deaths, and affected more than 42 million people. Since 1990, over 100 extreme temperature events have killed more than 50 000 people, over 21 000 have lost their lives in some 98 earthquakes and more than 300 floods, which are among the most frequent natural disasters, have hit the Region.

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"Natural and man-made disasters, epidemics, violent conflicts and terrorist attacks, causing mass displacement and ill health, can contribute to instability with cross-border consequences. If public health is to be protected against this kind of event, cooperation between countries and organizations in Europe is essential. An integrated response to health and security is required from health systems," says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Health systems' capacity to detect and deal with disease outbreaks will be discussed at the Copenhagen meeting. Several recent studies have shown the extent to which the spread of diseases - such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), bovine spongiform encephalopathy and avian influenza (with the potential for a human influenza pandemic) - and the health consequences of other emergencies can not only dramatically affect countries' health systems but also have an impact on security at both the national and international levels.

"Unexpected, rapidly occurring emergencies can, even in advanced health systems, create crises, with confusion and delayed action. Anticipating potential risks and establishing an effective early-warning and early-action mechanism - integrated into comprehensive strategies that will strengthen health systems' capacities to face and respond to crises - those are our common objectives," says Dr Nata Menabde, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Regional Office for Europe.

In addition, the participants will hear evidence from experts and case studies on recent threats to human health with potential implications for security, such as environmental lead contamination in Kosovo (Serbia), heat-waves in western Europe, floods and outbreaks of avian influenza in the Region.

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