Humanitarian Health Action

To ensure that in an emergency, they will have the health services they need

Ms. Hyo-Jeong Kim, Technical Officer, Emergency and Humanitarian Action, Nepal

Hyo-Jeong Kim

From the semi-arid expanses of Somalia to the remote mountains of Nepal seems a great distance to travel, metaphorically and otherwise. However, for Ms. Hyo-Jeong Kim, a Somalia veteran who is currently WHO’s focal point for Emergency and Humanitarian Action in Nepal, the geography might be different but the basic needs of her job remain the same – dedication, good organization, planning and preparation – to ensure that the country is prepared for any health emergency. And in Nepal, both its history and geography has ensured that an emergency is only a question of “when”, not “if”.

Situated along the Himalayan plate boundaries, Nepal is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. “People here are expecting the ‘big one’ anytime,” says Ms. Kim. The last major earthquake was in 1934. In the meantime, there are annual floods and landslides to contend with, and avalanches in winter. Nepal also experienced internal conflict for many years. During the period of unrest, most of the health system in Nepal was affected.

Kim’s priority is clear: preparedness. Based in the capital, Kathmandu, she goes to the field at least once a month, training health workers in remote areas for contingency planning and emergency management. “Once the contingency plans are in place, this will save many lives in an emergency,” she says. This often involves bumpy drives along small, winding roads up remote mountains to reach the district health facilities. Last year, she had to go to Jajarkot district in mid-western Nepal for assessments and response following reports of a diarrhoea outbreak. There were no roads there, and travelling by land involved walking for a minimum of two days. “ We had to hire a helicopter as time was of essence,” she says. She added, “the helicopter drew a large crowd, so we took advantage of this and gave quick lessons on the use of ORS for diarrhoea, and on the importance of handwashing.”

The motivating factor for her is the resilience of the people, and how they manage to survive and live in the most difficult conditions. That is what makes her determined to ensure that in an emergency, they will have the health services they need.