New Delhi: The World Health Organisation (WHO) Tuesday asked South East Asian nations to invest in emergency preparedness measures to effectively respond to natural disasters, infectious diseases and radiological disasters in the future.
WHO also urged the countries to scale-up their emergency management capabilities, expedite efforts to prepare for epidemics and make health facilities safe and functional during disasters.
"The region is prone to disasters. Every disaster is a reminder of the need for better risk reduction and preparedness, an essential public health function that needs to be prioritized," Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia said at 68th regional committee meeting being held at Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste.
WHO's South-East Asia Region comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
A WHO statement said that countries need to accelerate compliance to the International Health Regulations (2005) by building capacities to detect, report and respond to public health events.
"Preventing and responding to health emergencies is an issue of global health security. Every country must invest in emergency preparedness measures to effectively respond to natural disasters, infectious diseases, chemical and radiological events and any other emergency with health implications," the statement said.
The South-East Asia Region has witnessed a series of major public health emergencies over the years including the outbreaks of SARS and Avian Influenza, the 2004 tsunami, earthquakes, cyclones, floods and flash floods.
WHO is supporting countries in the region to build core capacities required of them in the International Health Regulations such as good practice in infection prevention and control, effective surveillance and others.
"The earthquake in Nepal demonstrated the effectiveness of emergency preparedness. The hospitals in Kathmandu, that had been retrofitted and its manpower trained in contingency planning and mass casualty management as part of Nepal's emergency preparedness measures, withstood the earthquakes on April 25 and May 12 and continued to function and provide health care to the affected population," Singh said.
Taking lessons from the 2004 tsunami, WHO set up 12 benchmarks to measure comprehensive capacities in emergency preparedness and response and has been working closely with the countries in the region for strengthening them.
WHO in South-East Asia continues to prioritize emergency preparedness to minimize health impact of disasters and outbreaks, the statement added.
Voicing concern over the "alarmingly high" tobacco consumption in the region, the countries of the region, including India, had yesterday pledged to accelerate "hard-hitting" measures to reduce its use.
The countries signed the 'Dili Declaration' which also urged governments and UN agencies to accelerate tobacco control in the region which accounts for over one-third of the world's tobacco use.