The global A(H1N1) pandemic in 2009 provided important lessons in a variety of areas including disaster management and coordination, epidemiologic surveillance, health services, and risk communication. Technical advice about these and other issues was provided to countries to support their national emergency plans to respond to this type of health event.
One of the most important lessons learned from the pandemic is the importance of preparedness. The fact that countries had anticipated and executed plans to prepare for and respond to the avian influenza A (H5N1) outbreak in 2003 and 2004 did much to strengthen the capacity of institutions and resulted in better coordination during response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Nevertheless, a variety of adjustments had to be made in the plans of each country.
The recent cholera epidemic in Haiti and the Dominican Republic has brought to the forefront the critical nature of organization and response to such events.
Specific projects to strengthen appropriate and timely response to health emergencies are being undertaken by ministries of health in the region with technical support from PAHO/WHO and in collaboration with the World Bank, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of USAID, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Humanitarian Assistance Division of the Canadian International Development Agency, among others.
As part of these activities, the regional workshop on Emergency Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies (Epidemic and Pandemic) took place in San José, Costa Rica, on 3 and 4 March 2011. Over 70 delegates from the ministries of health in Central America and the Dominican Republic attended along with representatives from PAHO/WHO offices in the region. The main objective of the workshop was to review technical issues that will help to update and strengthen operational plans for responding to health emergencies.
The workshop analyzed the response to the cholera outbreak in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Participants assessed how technical tools and national emergency health plans performed in these emergencies; they noted successes and identified gaps in coordination and response that the health sector must address.