International Day for Disaster ReductionThe International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR), held on 13 October every year, promotes a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction. As this day celebrates how people around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters, the Health Emergencies Department of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) invites you to reflect on the regional perspective and progress towards the strengthening of national response capacities to public health emergencies and disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and the key role of political will to achieve such progress.

For the last 40 years, countries of the LAC region have been seeking to improve their capacities to manage emergency risks and enhance the preparedness and response capabilities of their health sector. In response to this call, PAHO created its Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Program in 1976 to better assist its Member States in increasing disaster risk awareness and knowledge and improving disaster management programs at national level.

From the introduction of the concept of disaster risk mitigation following the catastrophic events of 1985 in Mexico and Colombia, to the adoption of the regional Plan of Action on Safe Hospitals in Disasters in 2005, the launch of the Emergency Medical Teams (EMT) initiative in 2013 and the piloting of climate-smart adaptations for healthcare facilities since 2013, countries’ political will, coordination and planning efforts, supported by PAHO’s technical cooperation, were determinant in achieving significant improvements in the areas of prevention, detection, risk reduction, preparedness and response to health hazards throughout the region. As patterns of diseases and natural events are constantly changing due to numerous factors such as the weather, migration, economic, social and political driving forces, continuous adaptation and a broader scope for preparedness and response remain necessary. Emerging health emergencies, such as the recent Zika virus epidemic, which exposed more than 500 million people in the LAC Region, represent new threats to public health. Similarly, major and complex climate changes require higher national capacities and resources to cope with strong natural phenomena, including more frequent and devastating storms, risk of major earthquakes in increasingly densely populated urban settings, among others. This regional scenario calls for a multi-hazard risk management approach, a greater and more informed participation of national authorities and the heightened political support of those in power to effectively handle future major and complex emergencies. 

The full article entitled "Political Will, Coordination, and Planning: Key Components for Strengthening National Response to Public Health Emergencies and Disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean Countries" published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) September 3, 2018, Supplement on Public Health Emergencies is available at the following link: