2. Declaration of health emergency

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declaratoria emergencia sanitariaWhen conditions that jeopardize public health are in evidence, the ministry health can declare a health emergency, independent of a national declaration of emergency.

A declaration of emergency can vary from country to country and from one health district to another within a country, but generally apply to a geographical or health district. The agencies responsible for executing the measures adopted under a declaration of emergency should disseminate this information throughout their networks.

Measures put in place under a declaration of emergency can affect the entire health care network, including its public and private components as well as entities that provide complementary services (clinical laboratories, pharmaceutical suppliers, food processors, manufacturers of medical supplies and equipment, etc.). However, measures may be required beyond the health sector. For example, when a pandemic prompts an emergency declaration, control measures in other sectors may be suggested and supported by civil (for example, closing of schools, cinemas, etc.)

Previously prepared plans should have taken into account the appropriate channels to disseminate an announcement of measures, since successful outcomes will depend to a great extent on how well they are communicated to the sectors that are responsible for carrying them out, and, importantly, on how well they are communicated to the community.

Declaring a health emergency involves using an alert system (the most common code used is green/yellow/red) that is activated according to how the event unfolds. While the process varies from country to country, it is particularly important that the activities, measures and roles of the staff and agencies be established in advance for each type of alert, and that the public receives clear information on the measures and actions they are to carry out.

Just as provisions must be in place for declaring an emergency or issuing an alert, there must be procedures to deactivate the emergency or alert and restore normalcy to all administrative and financial matters.

Under the International Health Regulations, a public health emergency is of international concern if it includes a combination of the four following criteria:

  • Severe public health impact.
  • Unusual or unforeseen nature of the event.
  • Possibility that the impact could spread internationally.
  • Risk that the event could lead to travel or trade restrictions.

View a flow chart to aid in the assessment and notification of events that may constitute a public health emergency of international concern. The appearance of a disease does not necessarily imply a danger that it will spread internationally. The place, time, magnitude of the outbreak, proximity to a border or international airport, speed of propagation, and mode of transmission, among other factors, are relevant in determining whether a public health risk of international scope is present. For more information consult WHO’s guidance for national policy-makers and partners on implementing the International Health Regulations.

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