Health Cluster—A Strategy to Improve Response Coordination

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How can the support to countries and particularly to the health sector in the event of an emergency be optimized? This was the focus of a workshop held with coordinators of the health cluster in Quito, Ecuador, in March. The course was implemented by PAHO, in coordination with the global health cluster and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The main objective of a cluster is to coordinate aid from the health sector in support of a country affected by a disaster so that it is more effective, and to offer tools to manage the avalanche of international and national support —both in terms of personnel and equipment and supplies. It aims to organize humanitarian aid so that it reaches the most vulnerable in an organized way, and with the knowledge of what items come in and which are needed; seeks to identify where the resources are, where they are most useful, how they can be mobilized and at which time they are most appropriate, considering the logistical and administrative factors which are essential for the smooth functioning of operations.

The profile of the person that should be designated as cluster coordinator was analyzed in the workshop, as well as the need for coordinators to be part of a special group which can support emergencies occurring both inside and outside the region. The cluster coordinator must have certain managerial and leadership characteristics which enable him or her to be a facilitator amongst the different agencies, national and international NGOs, with the aim of ensuring that the objective of protecting and guaranteeing that the fundamental public health issues of those affected by disasters are taken into account, as well as communicating the needs of the sector to the other clusters (we recommend you see www.humanitarianreform.org).

It was highlighted that the health cluster grouping must ensure:

  • Responsibility: since it assigns an issue or specific area to an agency to work on and to coordinate with national authorities and, in this respect, act as a guarantor to international cooperation agencies, dedicating personnel and technical and administrative resources on a full time and exclusive basis.
  • Reliability: It is necessary to guarantee that during times of preparedness, response factors are considered, and technical procedures, kits, lists of products required in emergencies, basic information on endemic areas, hazard and disaster maps are at the ready. In addition, personnel must be available with up-to-date training and with the administrative capacity to operate “in emergency mode,” that is to say, with sufficient flexibility to adapt to the conditions that arise as a result of an unexpected event.
  • Accountability: Projects which are undertaken during an emergency are subject to verification procedures.
    But, what is the difference between what has been proposed in the Humanitarian Reform and this cluster focus? PAHO has always managed its operations within the framework of inclusion, responsibility and with strict accountability both within the organization and to donors.

The Regional Response Team and other experts in emergency management work closely with the country offices and cooperate in the organization of the health sector, together with the ministries of health, to respond to disasters. However, the reform is more inclusive and seeks to consider international and/or national NGOs and other health sector agencies that work in emergencies and need interaction with other sectors to approach isues which are cross-cutting, of utmost importance to the health sector and the well-being of affected people. Issues such as gender, disability, chronically-ill patients and, in general, the most vulnerable have a priority focus and benefit from a cross-cutting management approach.

The workshop closed with a simulation in which concrete products were reviewed and abilities of the participants were put to the test in leadership, information analysis, application of technical tools, compliance with procedures, teamwork, crisis management, the production of technical information aimed at communications media, as well as knowledge of Humanitarian Reform and the production of sectoral plans of action and joint projects for fundraising. For further information, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

525 23rd Street, N.W. - Washington, D.C. 20037, U.S.A.
202.974.3399 - Fax 202.775.4578 - disaster@paho.org - www.paho.org/disasters