Regional health officials review response after 2017 hurricanes

Friday, June 01, 2018

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TORTOLA, British Virgin Islands (CMC) — Caribbean health officials have concluded a two-day meeting at which the impact of the 2017 hurricane season was reviewed.

The Government of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), in a statement on Wednesday, said member states of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reviewed the hurricanes' effect during a two-day “After Action Review (AAR)” meeting that ended on Tuesday.

During this meeting, health representatives from the impacted countries of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Maarten, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the BVI also developed a plan for improving health response in the Caribbean region, the statement noted.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development in the BVI, Petrona Davies said that, as one of the hardest-hit jurisdictions, it was “most fitting that the workshop was convened in the BVI”.

She said delegates could witness firsthand not only the lingering effects, but also the “incipient challenges arising from complex issues that BVI residents have been forced to confront on an unprecedented scale, such as debris management and housing recovery.

“For the health sector, the landscape in which we are operating is changing, and we must continually adapt in order to meet evolving needs,” Davies said. “But there are some things that remain constant, such as our long-standing relationship with PAHO.

“I am honoured to have this opportunity to acknowledge PAHO's sterling contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands and the region in our disaster relief and recovery efforts,” she added.

Head of the PAHO team and regional health advisor, Dr Dana van Alphen, said the “After Action Review”, was “an opportunity to speak openly as a group to identify the issues that arose and to capture the things that worked well.

“We have to learn from our mistakes and be in a position to address the coordination challenges, as well as arrive at consensus on how to move forward and prepare for what may affect us in the future,” said van Alphen, calling for greater focus on early recovery.

She underscored the importance of having a thorough rapid assessment to guide the recovery process and to alleviate the confusion that is usually seen in this phase.

“Many priorities emerge following a disaster, but we must depend on the data that is captured in the rapid assessment phase to guide these priorities,” she said.

“Some of these priorities are difficult to achieve,” van Alphen added. Debris management is one of the most challenging areas to address. The resources are primarily in the private sector, and they are not cheap.

She said a plan to engage the private sector and to finance this aspect is “critical”, stating that “this is not a function to be performed by a single government entity.

“It must be seen as a cross-ministry approach and a major activity needed to achieve early recovery outcomes,” the PAHO official said.

The BVI Government statement said the “After Action Review” meeting allowed for various presentations to be delivered including the experience of a renowned non-government organization, Americares that works to improve health for affected people.

The organisation provided significant support to Dominica post-hurricane Maria, the statement said.

Presentations were made by health officials from impacted islands.

The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) presented on the “Building Back Better Process” and the connections with a SMART Approach, “which provides a methodology for connecting resiliency, environmental protection and health”, the statement said.

It said DDM officials also led a panel discussion on logistics and relief distribution.

One of the main outcomes of the two-day session, facilitated by PAHO in collaboration with the DDM, was a discussion and a plan for preparing for the 2018 hurricane season.

The AAR meeting will be followed by a meeting of health disaster coordinators, which will be held in Barbados in two weeks.




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