Public health emergencies are widespread in the Asia-Pacific region. Conflict, natural disaster, pandemics, climate change and other man-made disasters all pose significant impediments to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and are on the development agenda. They threaten lives and livelihoods and the ability of health systems to deliver health care. The health workforce are crucial to all aspects of response to emergencies: vulnerability assessment, preparedness, disaster risk reduction, mitigation and response. Health workers are central to identifying potential health risks from man-made and natural hazards and promoting personal and community risk reduction measures. Conflict and disaster-affected states face major challenges in reaching the MDGs. Failure to improve system response to the more intense needs present not only in acute, but also in more protracted crises, poses a major risk to MDG targets not being met. It is the poor who are most affected.
The crises referred to above all pose substantial risks to health and health systems through their impact at a variety of levels - on the absolute number of health workers, the tasks they are expected to perform, their morale, deployment, migration and roles in building back better systems for the future.
The Australian Government has focused considerable attention on disaster preparation and mitigation. The 2009-10 AusAID humanitarian, emergency and refugee-related expenditure is estimated to be $350 million or approximately nine percent of total Australian ODA. This represents a steady increase from previous years. Following the 2008 APEC meeting, Australia committed $67 million (over five years) to the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction. In addition, AusAID is leading a whole-of-government taskforce to develop a Deployable Civilian Capacity, an idea raised at the Australia 2020 Summit. This will enable AusAID in cooperation with other government agencies, to pre-identify, train, deploy rapidly and sustain civilian technical expertise. The program will build on Australia’s experience of deploying civilian experts in post-conflict situations, for example in Timor - Leste and the Solomon Islands, and improve Australia’s integration into multilateral stabilisation, reconstruction and nation building operations.
There are a number of regional human resource for health strategies that place emphasis on the challenges and need for innovations in the area of emergencies including from WPRO and SEARO. In particular, challenges in emergencies relating to reproductive health have been highlighted. This was the subject of a dedicated panel session at the Reproductive Health Access, Information and Services in Emergencies (RAISE) Initiative Conference in Kampala in 2008.
The Public Health Emergencies team will document, review and analyse the strategies employed by different health systems to prepare for, prevent, withstand and respond to health emergencies. In particular the group has taken a case-study approach to identify interventions and innovations of different aspects of public health emergencies, highlighting both innovation and effectiveness but also identifying information gaps.
The Public Health Emergencies product is the newest addition to the HRH Hub work area. However, work has commenced and publications will start to be made available in the first half of 2011