PAHO/WHO Health Emergencies Department (PHE)


Reducing mortality, morbidity, and societal disruption resulting from emergencies and disasters through the detection, management and mitigation of high-threat pathogens, and all-hazards risk reduction, preparedness, response and early recovery activities that build resilience and use a multi-sectoral approach to contribute to health security.


The PHE Department focuses on strengthening the health sector's capacities in prevention, risk reduction, preparedness, surveillance, response, and early recovery for emergencies and disasters related to any hazard (natural, man-made, biological, chemical, radiological and others) and, when national capacities are overwhelmed, to lead and coordinate the international health response to contain disasters, including outbreaks, and to provide effective relief and recovery to affected populations.

Work in PHE Department aims to define the Organization's overall strategy to prevent mitigate, respond, and recover from emergencies and disasters in the health sector; build the capacities of Member States to face emergencies and disasters, including capacities required under the International Health Regulations (2005) to manage risks to health from all hazards; detect acute threats to heath and undertake timely risk assessments in response to such events; provide technical leadership and develop networks to address risks related to high-threat pathogens; manage PAHO's response to acute and protracted emergencies and disasters; strengthen partnerships to promote collective action; develop and promote technical standards and guidance; provide credible technical advice to stakeholders in response to acute events and emergencies; and ensure risk and performance monitoring.

The Department strengthens hazard-specific capacity in countries in relation to a range of diseases with the potential to cause outbreaks, epidemics, or pandemics, including water-borne diseases, zoonoses, chemical and radiologic emergencies, natural hazards, and conflicts. It considers the human security approach to building coherent intersectoral policies to protect and empower people to increase community resilience against critical and pervasive threats.

The Department also bolsters relevant partnerships and inter-agency processes, recognizing that its impact is optimized by coordinating, leveraging and facilitating the implementation roles of other local, national and international entities and partners best positioned to deliver the relevant clinical or other public health services.

Finally, the PHE Department operates under the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence in serving populations affected by emergencies, and disasters. It operates within the broader humanitarian architecture with a consistent aim of strengthening local and national capacity.

Health Emergencies Department Brochure

Towards a more resilient health sector in the Americas 

Areas of work

1. Infectious hazard management

This area of work aims to support countries in the surveillance, prevention and control of high risk diseases of pandemic & epidemic potential (i.e. viral hemorrhagic fevers, influenza and coronaviruses, arthropod borne viruses and bacterial diseases) through forecasting, characterization of diseases / infectious risks and development of evidence-based strategies to Predict, Prevent, Detect and Respond to infectious hazards. This includes developing and supporting prevention and control strategies, tools and capacities for high-threat infectious hazards, establishing and maintaining expert networks to leverage international expertise to detect, understand and manage new or emerging high-threat infectious hazards, as well as providing secretariat support for the management of the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework.

Work in this program area targets on improving the sharing of available knowledge and information on emerging and reemerging high-threat infectious hazards, enhancing surveillance and response to epidemic diseases and working through networks to contribute to global mechanisms and processes, in accordance with IHR provisions. PHE also manages regional mechanisms for tackling the international dimension of epidemic diseases, with special emphasis on the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework.

PHE supports countries in developing and maintaining the relevant components of their multi-hazard national preparedness plans designed to respond to major epidemics, including epidemiological surveillance, laboratory strengthening and networking, case management and infection control, and inter-sectoral coordination to address the needs of marginalized populations and those in vulnerable situations. It also works to enhance capacities to model and forecast the risk for emerging high threat pathogens, including those of human animal interface, to monitor their level of occurrence and to enable a more effective response.

PHE establishes and maintains expert networks and interventions for epidemic surveillance and response: Laboratory networks [viral and bacterial diseases, biosafety & biosecurity], Clinical Management networks, Infection Prevention and Control network and Epidemiological Surveillance networks.

  • Action lines:
    i. High Threat Pathogens: Influenza, Plague, Cholera, Hemorrhagic Fevers, Meningitis, foodborne diseases, Yellow Fever and arboviruses of regional public health importance (Zika, Chikungunya, West-Nile, Equine Encephalitis, Oropouche, Mayaro and others);
    ii. Expert networks and interventions for epidemic surveillance and response: Laboratory networks [viral and bacterial diseases, biosafety & biosecurity], Clinical Management networks, Infection Prevention and Control networks and Epidemiological Surveillance networks.

2. Country health emergency preparedness and the International Health Regulations (2005)

The aim of this area of work is to ensure that all countries of the Region have capabilities for all hazards health emergency and disaster risk management including the core capacities needed to fulfill their responsibilities under the IHR 2005. These cover national legislation, policy, and financing; coordination and national focal point communications; surveillance and risk communication; preparedness and response; infection prevention and control; human resources; and laboratory capacity building and networking.

PHE coordinates with National IHR Focal Points to review, analyze and ensure adequate annual reporting on the implementation of the regulations, conduct simulation exercises and after-action reviews as part of country assessments for the implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005), and coordinate the voluntary independent assessment of country core capacities and implementation of the Regulations.

Support is provided to Member States to incorporate the human security concept into country health plans to address the root causes of the multiple, interrelated, and widespread threats that endanger the survival, livelihood, and dignity of people. PHE works to increase inter-sectoral consistency between national-level protective measures and other State policies, local health care, and the empowerment of individuals and communities, especially those in situations of greatest vulnerability.

This area supports country efforts to implement their national IHR plans and maintain their capacities. Emphasis is placed on strengthening the national leadership roles of preparedness, monitoring, and response within the ministries of health; promoting the adoption of benchmarks for disaster preparedness; supporting the development and implementation of national multi-hazard preparedness and response plans, and the implementation of actions to increase operational readiness in PAHO, high risk, vulnerable countries and partners.

  • Action lines:
    i. Regional IHR secretariat activities including aspects related to Yellow Fever risk mapping, Travel & Health and Points of Entry;
    ii. IHR Core Capacity Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation (including JEE);
    iii. IHR Core Capacity Building in countries;
    iv. Development and implementation of multi-hazard plans, simulation exercises and drills for health sector disaster plans.
    v. Development of internal guidelines, learning materials and standard operating procedures;
    vi. Reinforcement of PAHO's surge capacity, through the identification and training of human resources to ensure rapid and proper response to emergencies;
    vii. Emergency Medical Teams.

3. Health Emergency Information and Risk Assessment

This program area aims to provide timely and authoritative situation analysis, risk assessment, and response monitoring for all acute public health events and emergencies.

PHE, as the Regional contact point for IHR, continuously develops its ability to coordinate regional efforts to strengthen all aspects of activities for the systematic detection, verification, and risk assessment of events, including training, coordination, and dissemination of accurate and timely information for all potential public health events of international concern and acute public health events. Exchange of experiences among Member States is facilitated, aimed at increasing the timeliness and transparency of information sharing related to public health events of potential international concern and strengthening communication channels between national focal points (NFPs) for international contact tracing purposes.

PHE monitors for signals of potential threats, and coordinate surveillance networks to establish early warning systems. For all signals involving high-threat pathogens or clusters of unexplained deaths in high vulnerability countries, PHE aims to initiate an on-site risk assessment within 72 hours. PHE publishes risk assessments from all public health events requiring publication for National IHR Focal Points on the Event Information Site within 48 hours of the completion of the assessment.

PHE establishes data collection mechanisms to ensure accurate and timely monitoring of health outcomes and response operations for all graded and protracted emergencies. PHE provides a data management, analytics and reporting platform to produce and disseminate timely standardized information products for all events, which includes updated situational analysis, risk assessment and mapping of available health resources and response capacities.

  • Action lines:
    i. Detection, Verification and Risk Assessment of Public Health Events under the IHR (functions of the WHO regional IHR contact point);
    ii. Collection, management, analysis and reporting on data related to public health events, emergencies, and disasters;
    iii. Definition of minimal standardized information required for different emergency related activities/topics;
    iv. Development of basic operational tools and risk mapping;
    v. Support to other program areas with data for the development of prediction tools and modeling vi. Production of country risk profiles and their periodic updating.

4. Emergency Operations

This program area provides support to countries to ensure that emergency-affected populations have access to an essential package of life-saving health services. The Organization, therefore, continues to enhance its systems and processes to ensure a more predictable and effective response to health emergencies. These have three main elements: i) strengthening PAHO's own operational capacities; ii) expanding and strengthening international capacities for emergency response through partnership; and, iii) supporting national authorities to coordinate the international response to health emergencies.

Efforts continue to build institutional capacity to be able to establish comprehensive incident management systems and coordinate the action of health emergency partners on the ground within 72 hours of grading for all graded risks and events, including the development of a strategic response and joint operations plan to guide response operations.

PHE ensures that effective partner coordination mechanisms are in place for all graded and protracted events at national and subnational levels to strengthen coordination during emergency response. Work, therefore, supports increased capacities for interoperable health emergency response through expansion and strengthening of operational partner networks, including Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN), Emergency Medical Teams (EMT), and other mechanisms, ensuring increased interoperability among networks.

PHE updates and develops technical standards, promotes their application and monitors implementation against standards. It ensures that relevant policies, processes, and mechanisms are in place to guarantee that essential operations support and logistics are established and emergency supplies distributed to points of service within 72 hours of grading for all graded risks and events. PHE provides operational support (including fleet, accommodations, facilities, security, and information and communications technology), ensures availability of medical supplies and equipment through effective supply chain management, and provides critical specialized health logistics services, as required, for all graded and protracted emergencies.

The Department promotes the coordination, monitoring, and implementation of the Plan of Action for Coordination of International Humanitarian Assistance in Health through the integration of actions by PASB program areas and networks. It supports, among other efforts, the updating and establishment of coordination procedures based on current systems and partnerships (sub regional, regional, and global) for humanitarian health assistance, in order to contribute to the prevention of mortality, morbidity, and disability caused by emergencies and disasters. This includes establishing efficient and effective response teams and adapted tools for the coordination of international humanitarian assistance in the health sector.

PHE coordinates efforts to enhance the Bureau's own capacity to monitor and coordinate emergency response, with strong focus on strengthening the PAHO Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and ensuring its continued and optimal operation. Concerted efforts are also directed toward strengthening PAHO's response capacity, including its surge capacity response mechanisms, such as the regional health response team, to allow implementation of health's critical functions in humanitarian emergencies.

  • Action lines:
    i. Implementation of response operations, including the coordination of the regional GOARN network;
    ii. Development of strategic response and joint operations plans to guide response operations;
    iii. Full operational capacity of PAHO's Emergency Operations Center;
    iv. Activation and implementation of emergency response mechanisms in accordance with PAHO's Policy and Procedures of the Institutional Response to Emergencies and Disasters, including full support to the Incident Management System.

5. Emergency Core Services

The core services area is responsible for implementing capacities, policies, procedures and systems which are standardized across the organization, and fit for purpose to support effective management and sustainable staffing and financing of the emergencies program, while ensuring inter-operability and consistency during coordinated emergency response efforts through partnership. This area of work encompasses administration, communications, resource mobilization and grant management, strategic planning, financial and human resources management, security, staff health and well-being.

Main action lines include strengthening core services for emergencies to ensure that management decisions rapidly trigger the seamless provision of services which meet emergency performance standards and facilitate emergency program operations. This is achieved through both the establishment of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), policies, guidelines and standardized templates (building on lessons learned from previous response efforts and best practices from other operational partners), and the on-going review and assessment of performance in this area, leading to continuous improvement and contributing to the overall goal of business process excellence.

  • Actions lines:
    i. Creation and revision of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), policies, guidelines and standardized templates;
    ii. Recruitment and retention of personnel;
    iii. Resource mobilization and communication.

6. Disaster Risk Reduction and Special Projects

PHE coordinates implementation of the Plan of Action on Disaster Risk Reduction 2016 - 2021 which aims to protect the lives of patients and health workers, shield health equipment and supplies from disasters, and ensure that the health services continue operating effectively during and after emergencies and disasters in order to save lives, reduce disabilities, and enable the health sector to fulfill its continuing responsibilities. PHE works with countries in the implementation of Special Projects like Safe Hospitals, Smart Hospitals, Internally Displaced Populations, among others, to build their capacity to protect the physical, mental, and social well-being of their populations and recover rapidly from emergencies and disasters. A Special Project on High Vulnerable Countries focuses on strengthening national leadership and sustained capacity of the health sector to build the resilience of those countries and territories.

  • Actions lines:
    i. Implement Special Project on Smart Hospitals in the Caribbean;
    ii. Internally Displaced Populations in Colombia and neighboring countries;
    iii. High vulnerable countries projects: currently Haiti and Dominican Republic;
    iv. Safe Hospital project and the eventual expansion of the Smart Hospitals initiative to other Member States;
    v. Implementation of the Plan of Action on Disaster Risk Reduction 2016-2021.