When a health emergency situation occurs, rapid response saves lives. The prompt humanitarian response and effective coordination of emergency medical personnel is especially crucial during the first three to five days of the emergency.
The Department of Health (DOH) is collaborating closely with the three levels of the World Health Organization (WHO) to make sure that the coordinating mechanisms are in place if a large-scale emergency response is required from both national and international emergency medical teams (EMTs) through the establishment of the Emergency Medical Teams Coordination Cell (EMTCC).
"Of course it’s key to get emergency medical teams to the field as quickly as possible so that they can start helping people and saving lives," said WHO Representative in the Philippines Dr Gundo Weiler. "But we also know that in emergencies where many people are affected, one medical team alone cannot do it. So we have a situation where many are coming together and we need to be seeing the right teams responding to the most critical and urgent needs."
If they are not well-coordinated, they are stepping on each other’s toes and overburdening the affected country, this can actually add to the chaos on the ground and lead to unnecessary deaths and disabilities. So coordination is really critical,” Dr Weiler adds.
The DOH and WHO Emergency Medical Teams Initiative, together with partners from the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), organized a week-long training last February 2018 to strengthen the coordination capacity of the Philippines. Thirty participants from the central and regional offices of the DOH as well as its partners participated in group discussions and a simulation exercise in the aftermath of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.
"We are simulating 'The Big One', the earthquake 7.2 in Metro Manila and nearby provinces of Region 3 and Region 4A," explained Dr Gloria Balboa, the Director of DOH’s Health Emergency Management Bureau. "It’s a situation wherein we have the EMTCC organized and then there are a lot of international emergency medical teams that were requested by the Philippines. So the teams are distributed to different areas and the EMTCC members have to deal with meetings and different scenarios coming in every day."
Here are some of the things that they learned:
Up-to-date and accurate information is vital during emergencies to understand the needs and learn how and who will be best respond to these needs. In the training, the participants acquired knowledge in the systemic use of the standard reporting tools for the collection, analysis, and dissemination of emergency data.
The EMTCC provides a situation update to emergency medical teams.
Daily reports are a part of the information management tool that is useful in tracking the needs on the ground.
Reception and Departure Centre
When international emergency medical teams arrive and leave the country, a reception and departure centre should be established together with OCD and DFA. The participants went to Clark International Airport and learned how to set-up the reception and departure centre, including organizing and briefing the arriving emergency medical teams.
The participants arrive at Clark International Airport to set up the Reception and Departure Centre.
An international emergency medical team is welcomed by the EMTCC at the airport.
Once the response is in full swing, the EMTCC will be tasked to manage the emergency medical teams in the country. The participants acquired skills in EMTCC operations such as monitoring the response of the emergency medical teams through quality assurance checks and overall coordination with the humanitarian actors and donors.
Participants conduct quality improvement visits to make sure emergency medical teams are following the standards set by the country.
An emergency briefing is organized as part of the operations of the EMTCC.
Emergency Health Response Review
The Philippines has an existing contingency plan for response to large-scale emergencies like ‘The Big One’ and there are also global humanitarian guidelines available. During the training, the participants adapted the emergency plans to the local health emergency scenario and identified lessons learnt.
Participants look at the processes required in the establishment of EMTCC.
A wrap-up session is organized to find out the key learnings and challenges during the simulation exercise.