PAHO supports Ministry of Health of Chile in aftermath of forest fires


Valparaíso, Chile, 15 February 2024 (PAHO) - Since devastating fires first affected the Chilean region of Valparaíso, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) teams have been working with the country’s authorities to support on the ground mental health, vaccination, sanitation and risk communication initiatives.

When the forest fires began, Minister of Health of Chile Ximena Aguilera declared a health emergency in the affected territory to facilitate a faster response to the health needs and requirements of the affected communities.

According to official data, the fires caused more than 130 deaths and approximately 1,250 injuries, and more than 5,000 people and 1,500 homes were affected in the Valparaíso region.

The Undersecretary of Assistance Networks, Osvaldo Salgado, thanked PAHO for its support to the emergency response, stressing that the organization’s presence in the disaster zone provides a "valuable opportunity" to learn from its experience.

receiving aid

Mental health actions

For Chilean health authorities, mental health support is crucial to meet the demands of communities affected by the disaster. The country has therefore strengthened psychosocial support teams and deployed mental health professionals to Valparaíso and Quilpué. The professionals can be easily identified by their green T-shirts, bearing the slogan "Building Better Health."

"In the Valparaíso region we have international support from PAHO, as well as mental health teams from the Arica, Coquimbo and Metropolitan regions," Andrea Albagli, Undersecretary for Public Health of Chile, said. “There are various ways that mental health issues can manifest, which is why we are all here, committed to addressing this phenomenon and providing a response to the people we know are suffering at this time."

PAHO's Mental Health Consultant, Débora Noal, who is working with national and regional health authorities in the affected region, highlighted the work of local and national health teams in dealing with the emergency.

While "the response capacity of this country is impressive," external support is crucial to ensuring diverse perspectives and resources, she added.

mental health

Emergency medical teams in the field

The teams formed in Chile under the PAHO/WHO Emergency Medical Teams (EMT) strategy met with national, local and international health authorities to address the main health needs and challenges in the field.

For PAHO/WHO's Incident Commander in Chile, Eduardo Ortiz, the Organization's support "reaffirms the importance of timely, innovative and agile cooperation in emergencies".

The Organization’s support included the delivery of some 50 backpacks with basic first aid equipment by the PAHO/WHO Representative in Chile, Fernando Leanes, to the Ministry of Health, with the aim of reinforcing the work of the EMTs. "While the Ministry of Health teams are well prepared to provide a rapid and effective response to this type of disaster, the collaboration with the PAHO Emergency team helps to strengthen the sector's ability to recover through agile and comprehensive support," he said.

emergency supplies