Director-General's Office

Opening remarks at the Emergency medical teams global meeting

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Hong Kong SAR, People's Republic of China
28 November 2016

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

The global classification of EMTs is life-saving capacity building at its best. It is, quite literally, making order out of potential chaos, and this is an exacting order at a very high level of competence.

Through this initiative, international preparedness to provide clinical care during emergencies has been structured, standardized, and aligned with a set of overarching principles.

Structure centres on five distinct types of emergency medical teams, ranging from the provision of triage and outpatient treatment in fixed or mobile facilities, to highly specialized surgical and intensive care.

Classification is standardized. Each type of team is defined by rigorous and specific requirements, such as the number of outpatient treatments or surgical procedures that must be performed each day, and the skills and services that must be provided, right down to the required number of operating rooms and hospital or intensive care beds.

All teams must be self-sufficient, responsible for their own equipment, maintenance, and supplies, whether services are provided in fixed facilities, mobile units, field hospitals, or tents.

Teams are further required to adhere to a set of international humanitarian principles.

The requirements for qualification and registration are high. The classification process follows months of engagement with WHO through a peer-to-peer mentoring programme, which provides support from committed experts.

I congratulate the six teams, two from Russia and one each from China, Japan, Australia, and Israel, who have successfully completed verification and are considered WHO classified emergency medical teams. As I have seen from media reports, having a team vetted and classified by WHO can be a source of great national pride.

I thank the additional 75 teams who have signed up for the verification process and are preparing for their peer review visits in the coming weeks and months.

I thank IFRC and OCHA for their collaboration, which lends added authority, grounded in experience, and has greatly extended the initiative’s reach. I thank the numerous countries that have provided funding and in-kind support.

In just the past year, emergency medical teams were deployed in response to crises in Ecuador, Haiti and Fiji.

In all these deployments, we have witnessed the advantages of better coordination and speedy mobilization.

The foundation of a resilient health system able to respond to emergencies resides at the national level. The initiative’s national and regional focus is a major strength, as it helps build capacity and self-sufficiency in responding to emergencies.

In addition, responders acting domestically and within a region have a better understanding of local culture, context, and language. As you are well aware, community engagement is critically important in every successful emergency response.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Enthusiasm for the EMT initiative is propelled by the numerous advantages it brings.

By classifying medical teams, WHO can assist governments affected by an emergency with predictable and timely surge capacity from well-trained personnel in self-sufficient teams.

Classification by WHO, along with peer review, is a mark of vetting and quality assurance that builds donor confidence and opens the door for invitations to respond. Populations, too, are reassured to know that qualified and equipped teams stand ready to step in quickly when disaster strikes.

Populations, too, are reassured to know that qualified and equipped teams stand by to step in quickly when disaster strikes.

Having teams classified in advance facilitates a rapid and close match between real needs and specialized skills. It also improves the coordination and speed of mobilization and improves the professional accountability for emergency practices.

For affected countries, the initiative reduces the burden that occurs when uncoordinated assistance floods in, placing heavy and distracting demands on local authorities, facilities, and staff.

For the international community, the initiative imposes order on a situation historically prone to chaos.

I wish you a most productive meeting.

Thank you.