Humanitarian Health Action

Purpose statements for panels and sessions

WHO Conference on the Health Aspects of the Tsunami Disaster in Asia

Session 1.2: National health perspectives on the Tsunami crisis


In all Tsunami-affected countries, the National and Local health authorities in conjunction with various agencies in the government have provided immediate response and relief after the event. It was through national systems, its structures, and coordinating mechanisms of response that the pressing health needs of survivors were met. Most if not all NGOs, UN agencies, donor groups and other humanitarian actors were all working within a framework set by national authorities.

Every national health system has a different set of mechanism and system to respond to emergencies. In some it is decentralized, while in others, control and command rested in national health authorities. The roles that other government agencies (apart from Ministries of Health) such military authorities played to assist delivery of health services also varied. It is from these varied perspectives that the health sector action is discussed.

As such the session will specifically look at the following:

  • The magnitude of the disaster in various countries and its impact to communities, highlighting morbidity and mortality trends if any; impact to the health sector particularly the health workforce and facilities;
  • Organizational structures and processes for health sector preparedness and response;
  • Description of the key lessons which includes answering the questions: What was done well? What could have been done better? and What can be done to prepare for the future?

More importantly the session will be 1) looking forward as to how the lessons of this event can improve national capacity building efforts of Member States in the area of disaster and emergency management; and 2) provide recommendations to better improve the international system for assistance to the health sector during disasters.

Key Questions

Needs Assessment: What systems were in place so these assessments are conducted systematically in any event? How did national authorities conduct assessments for the emergency (eg through local authorities, joint teams, availability of pre-ready assessment forms and logistics)? Were there assessment teams in place ready for deployment? If not how long did it take to form such teams? How did national authorities coordinate various needs assessment missions for health and nutrition issues from external agencies and groups?

Coordination: In Ministries of Health, which unit was the main coordinating body during the Tsunami? Is there an Emergency Preparedness and Response Programme that is institutionalized to take on this responsibility in case of an emergency?

Gap Filling: How well was the identification of gaps linked to the assessments conducted? How did Ministries of Health organize itself so that the gaps in response were filled? In this aspect how did national authorities identify which gaps are to be filled by a particular agency or donor?

Capacities: Which systems and plans which were tested and in place proved successful in the event? From previous training programmes that were conducted in disaster and emergency management, which of the trainees were tapped to assist or were in place prior to the event? What policies or pieces of legislation proved useful in the Tsunami?