What WHO's unified global health emergency workforce will look like

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 18 August 2015

Dr. Ian Norton (third from the right) heads WHO's Foreign Medical Teams unit. What does the future hold for health workers in disaster response and health emergencies? Photo by: Gemma Haines / Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade / CC BY

Emergency and crisis are followed by international mobilization of the aid community to address the medical needs of those affected, as witnessed in Haiti, in recent disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the Nepal earthquakes and now Myanmar, which is currently experiencing its worst floods in decades.

But such disastrous scenarios don’t lend themselves to having the most qualified health experts already on the ground. What happens when it takes too long to get emergency responders in? Worse, when those on the ground aren’t properly prepared, get injured or fall ill to diseases endemic in the country?

In the first few months of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, many national doctors and nurses, not yet fully aware of the dangers of epidemic they were treating, lost their lives to the disease. Infections continued to spread even after international medical help arrived.

The outbreak has given way to a heightened sense of awareness of the global need for more front-line responders who are prepared, agile and immediately available in the country or nearby. In March, various stakeholders, led by Save the Children, announced their plans for a Humanitarian Leadership Academy. More than 100,000 individuals — seasoned aid worker or otherwise — are expected to undergo training and emerge ready to respond to a crisis situation at home or in neighboring countries over the next five years.

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.

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