A PAHO/WHO-sponsored Meeting of Health Disaster Coordinators from the Ministries of Health of the Americas took place from 25-27 October in Mexico City. PAHO/WHO disaster focal points also participated in this meeting—with the exception of those in Central American countries affected by the recent floods. At the gathering, priority areas for Latin America and the Caribbean were identified to continue the health sector’s advancement in disaster preparedness, response and mitigation in emergencies and disaster situations affecting the population, especially those living in areas of greater vulnerability.

In recent decades there have been important advances in disaster preparedness, mitigation and response; however, it is necessary to define new goals and adapt to the ever changing—and increasingly complex—context, since disasters continue to have an impact on the population and human and financial resources are limited. Other challenges for health risk reduction include the increasing number of actors, the requirements of international agencies, and the fact that the media is more demanding, as they give more focus and attention to the issue.

The group agreed that a priority is to establish registry systems for international response teams and coordinate their actions when they respond after a disaster. It is also necessary to have emergency resources and exchange and management systems for humanitarian supplies to respond to health emergencies. Another issue discussed was the impact of the Humanitarian Reform in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly the Cluster system, and the role that ministries of health can play. Also in this discussion was the work of the Emergency Operations Center and the mobilization of the regional response team.

In regard to emergency preparedness, participants supported the need to have tools available for measuring advances and the state of preparedness of countries and the region. To that end, recommendations were presented on the Health Sector Self-Assessment Tool for Disaster Risk Reduction developed in the Caribbean, the survey on the state of preparedness and mitigation in the Region, which will be applied shortly, and the development of a health sector preparedness index. Participants also shared experiences on the level of preparedness reached in their countries.

As for risk reduction, the progress of the Safe Hospitals initiative was highlighted and some examples of its implementation in different countries of the region were presented, including Argentina, Barbados and Mexico. In addition, the model for the Incident Command System was presented as a tool for emergency management in different contexts.

The use of social networking in information management and disaster communications was also examined. Included in the conversation were the advantages and obstacles for implementation, and Peru and British Virgin Islands shared their experiences in this regard. Finally, there was a presentation on experiences in resource mobilization, both to finance disaster programs in the countries, such as the Safe Hospitals strategy, and to encourage cooperation among ministries of health.