Humanitarian Health Action

Purpose statements for panels and sessions

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

Session 1.3: Health protection and disease prevention


The Tsunami disaster has had a devastating effect on the health and welfare of affected communities. During the immediate phase of the crisis, relief efforts to save lives provide shelter and basic services to survivors and retrieve and safely dispose dead bodies were critical. This phase was followed by needs to improve housing/shelter, nutrition, access to safe drinking water, sanitation services and strengthening health care. This was essential as the immediate risks in such situation are posed by waterborne diseases mainly diarrhoeal diseases like cholera and bacillary dysentery.

The need for immunization, reproductive and mental health, and environmental sanitation services were also among identified priorities. In the intermediate and longer-term, in addition to sustaining the above services, there is a need for re-establishing health systems, including rebuilding and refurnishing of public health, laboratory, and communication facilities.

Experiences thus far show that, a coordinated and sustained effort is critical for effective emergency response and delivery of basic health services. WHO continues to work in a leadership capacity in the health sector response alongside national governments and local and international communities to re-establish vital social services, including health systems and services.

The guiding principles include: coordination of various partners in the implementation of activities; building on existing structures and resources; synergy with national systems improving epidemic preparedness, health promotion and strengthening of health systems; public-private partnerships; documentation of experiences and lessons; accountability and transparency for implementation and reporting on status of activities; ensuring local ownership and participation for all activities.

Key questions for this panel

This panel will address the appropriateness, adequacy, effectiveness, efficiency, and 'connectedness' of both the technical and organisational aspects of national and international interventions for health protection and disease prevention. The following key questions will be discussed:

  • Needs assessment: How sound were the initial and ongoing health assessments of the disaster?
  • Coordination: How are stakeholders co-operating and coordinating with each other, including how resources are being mobilized and utilised?
  • Gap filling: How are population needs being met, and with what results?
  • Capacity building: How are country capacities being strengthened so as to be better prepared for future disasters?

In the context of improving the international health response to disasters, some of the specific issues and challenges for health protection and disease prevention to be addressed include:

  • Establishing and sustaining early warning systems
  • Laboratory capacity and referral networking
  • Health infrastructure rebuilding
  • Role of the private for profit, NGOs and other health care providers
  • Coordination of disease surveillance with partners
  • Addressing mental health needs
  • Food and nutrition
  • WATSAN - working with variety of partners
  • Critical importance of health promotion and risk communication