Geneva, 26 May 2017 (PAHO/WHO) - The Emergency Medical Team of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS) is the first in the Region of the Americas to be accepted by the World Health Organization (WHO) for its Emergency Medical Teams Initiative.
The Minister of Health of Costa Rica said that it was an honor for his country to receive this classification, while Dr. Chan stated that the letter represents "very strong recognition of Costa Rica's capacity" to respond to emergencies. She expressed hope that Costa Rica will continue to strengthen its capacity, and that of the region and beyond. She affirmed that this is why WHO was created: to help countries respond to emergencies of any kind, be they disasters, epidemics, or another type of crisis.
Today WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, together with PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne, presented the classification to the Minister of Health of Costa Rica, Fernando Llorca, and to the Director of Emergencies of the Costa Rican Social Security Fund, Daniel Quesada. The letter was delivered during the course of the 70th World Health Assembly.
Meanwhile, Ciro Ugarte, the Director of PAHO's Department of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief, noted that the country's political commitment was a key factor in achieving this classification. He said it was consistent with "Costa Rica's long tradition of solidarity" developed over decades of preparation in various spheres to respond to emergencies. He recalled that Costa Rica was the venue for the meeting of consultation of the countries of the Americas which drafted the Regional Policy for International Relief Assistance 1986, which included the need to ensure minimum standards of medical care for field hospitals.
In the letter, WHO indicates that the team has "satisfactorily demonstrated a practical commitment to the principals that guide patient care, as well as a high degree of adherence and capacity to implement the basic and technical standards for a Type 1 EMT." This level implies that logistical and technical capacity are in place to provide emergency ambulatory care to at least 100 people per day, in addition to stabilizing patients in need of transfer to facilities offering higher levels of care. The team must be self-sufficient for at least two weeks, which is the minimum time expected for mobilization.
The path to classification
After a rigorous two-day classification process 16 and 17 February, an international expert mission confirmed that the Costa Rican EMT complies with the principles and standards established by WHO and is ready for international deployment during emergencies and disasters. The mission consisted of Flavio Salio of the EMT Secretariat at WHO Geneva; Luis de la Fuente Martín, Regional Advisor for Emergency Medical Teams at PAHO; Juan Carlos Alonso, PAHO Subregional Advisor for Emergencies in Central America; Jorge Salamanca, EMT 2 Coordinator for the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation; and José Manoel de Souza Marques, Coordinator of the National Unified Health System of Brazil. Costa Rica started the International EMT 1 conformation process in early 2016 with technical support from PAHO.
The purpose of this classification is to have a global roster of medical teams that meet the minimum EMT standards set by WHO, which can deployed to emergencies in as little time as possible.
"Ensuring that international medical teams providing clinical care that meets minimum quality standards can be deployed in time, is essential for saving lives and preventing disabilities, as well as protecting the health of populations affected by an emergency," affirmed Luis de la Fuente, the PAHO regional advisor who participated in the verification mission to Costa Rica.
He indicated that PAHO is working with the countries of the hemisphere to strengthen the mechanisms for sending and requesting emergency medical team support, as well as flexible tools for developing and registering such teams, in accordance with the Plan of Action for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance in Health, approved by the Directing Council of PAHO in 2015.
From the outset, implementation of the EMT Initiative in the Americas has enjoyed financial support from the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation, which has also shared its experiences in the development and deployment of its own EMTs.
The Costa Rican Social Security Fund team that received WHO classification was deployed during the national response to hurricane Otto. Its members have extensive experience in deploying for emergencies.
The EMTs are teams of health professionals (physicians and nurses, physical therapists, paramedics, etc.) who provide clinical care directly to populations affected by emergencies and disasters, and support for local health systems. These medical teams work under the global guidelines for Classification and Minimum Standards for Emergency Medical Teams in sudden onset disasters.
Thus far, EMTs from Russia, China, Japan, Australia, Israel, and the United Kingdom have attained classification. Costa Rica is the first country of the region to be added to the global EMT roster. Several other countries of the Americas are working hard to achieve classification for their own EMTs. One-third of the countries registered for the classification process come from the Americas.