3. Strengthening response capacity in technical areas

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The active participation of the technical units in charge of health care, such health care facilities, surveillance units, environmental and mental health entities, health laboratories, etc., is critical during response operations.

An effective response depends on these units being adequately prepared and equipped to deal with emergencies. This section outlines the action to strengthen key technical units.



 

3.1. Detection and control of communicable diseases

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deteccioncontrolenfermDisasters may increase the risk of disease. Therefore, epidemiological surveillance systems and disease prevention and control programs and should be in place.

  • National epidemiological surveillance system and tools available for disease monitoring and control should be adequate and/or easy to use in disaster situations.
  • An epidemiological surveillance system in disaster situations is based on the rapid establishment of sentinel sites, surveillance of notifiable diseases, use of practical report forms, and reporting based on symptoms and syndromes. Examples of the forms, along with main types of health information needed for decision-making, can be found in the guide to epidemiological health surveillance in disaster situations.

 

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3.2. Water and sanitation

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provision agua seguraOne of the immediate and common effects of disasters usually involves damage to water supply, sewerage, and drainage systems, as well as damage to basic sanitation services. The multi-agency publication The Challenge in Disaster Reduction for the Water and Sanitation Sector: improving quality of life by reducing vulnerabilities illustrates the severity of the situation for the disaster-affected population when problems are compounded by the absence of safe water. Along with real examples, it describes actions that can be taken to reduce the vulnerability of water and sanitation systems.

 

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3.3. Mental health and psychosocial support

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atencion salud mentalMental health and psychosocial support for victims of natural disasters is increasingly growing importance. In addition to the consequences commonly witnessed during disaster events — devastation, destruction of infrastructure, environmental deterioration and the lack of basic services such as health care, drinking water and food — they also affect lives and cause disintegration in families and communities.

  • Complex emergencies and disaster situations are accompanied by increased psychological suffering: grief and fear, and psychiatric morbidity and other social problems. It is estimated that between one-third and one-half of the affected population (depending on the magnitude of the event and other factors) manifest some psychological problems.

 

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3.4. Public communications and mass media

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comunicacion publicaLimited knowledge of media on disaster management issues can generate incorrect information, adversely affecting public perceptions or leading to erroneous decisions or are counterproductive. The publication Information management and communications in emergencies and disasters describes how to plan communications, manage information, work with the media and prepare messages. It is also a reference for developing a strategic communications plan.

 

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3.5. Damage and needs assessment

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Evaluating the damage and health needs caused by a disaster is a critical function that should begin immediately after a disaster. A technical, objective approach will help decision-makers and, if necessary, guide the effective mobilization of appropriate humanitarian aid.

The post-disaster assessment should follow a pre-established plan that should be clearly defined prior to a disaster or emergency. Teams that conduct the assessments should have prior knowledge of the dynamics of disasters and the tools that are available for impact assessment. This article describes some of the best practices in conducting needs assessments.

 

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3.6. Information management

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manejo de informacionDisasters require rapid response to save lives and mitigate the impact on communities. This is particularly critical in the health sector. Effective and timely response depends on the availability of information—from the site of the disaster through to the most senior decision-making level. The information should flow through the different levels in an orderly and consistent manner.

 

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3.7. Health in temporary shelters and camps

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The displacement of large numbers of people to temporary shelters or camps as a result of a disaster or social violence creates a risk factor for health. Overcrowding, lack of basic services, and exposure to environmental changes can encourage emergence of disease, especially if shelter or camp operations are not well organized or continue over a long period of time. We have learned the importance of incorporating beneficiaries in the process of organizing shelters and camps. The provision of community-based services in these situations is very important.

 

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3.8. Mass casualty management

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manejo victimas en masaSaving lives and providing early care to disaster victims is the highest priority in response operations. However, as with other activities, this requires prior planning. In the preparedness phase, national authorities and health disaster institutions responsible for disaster management at various levels should take the necessary actions so that when disasters strike, the country and community will be as self-sufficient whenever possible. This will also involve training at the community level.

 

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