HEOC displays Health Multi-Hazard Emergency Plan in Lethem

THE “structured and coherent” nature of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) Multi-Hazard Emergency Management Plan was recently displayed in Lethem, (Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo) Region Nine last week with PAHO/WHO support.

The three-day simulation exercise was designed to test the responsiveness of a range of key elements of the health sector emergency strategy which includes preparedness, mitigation and recovery measures; the roles and responsibilities of key health sector entities and their departments.

The simulation exercise also examined measures in the plan to ensure affected communities return to normalcy in the “shortest possible time” in cases of emergencies.

Some 50 participants from the Lethem Town Council, Lethem Regional Hospital, Guyana Water Incorporate (GWI), Regional Democratic Council (RDC), Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and village councilors were coursed in the emergency strategy workshop held at the Amerindian Hostel.

Facilitators for the workshop were: PAHO/WHO Consultant in Health Surveillance, Disease Prevention and Control, Dr. Mariano Bonet; Dr. Collin James, Coordinator of Health Emergency Operation Centre (HEOC) of the MoPH and Ms. Abbigail Liverpool, Principal Environmental Health Officer/ Health Disaster Coordinator of the Health Ministry.

In his presentation, Dr James stressed the pivotal role of preparedness to handle catastrophic events.

“Emergency in disaster risk management requires coordination at the highest level where there must be command and control. The HEOC provides aid as it relates to achieving coordination and control within the ministry of public health in time of a disaster or disease outbreak,”, James said.

The HEOC facilitates health management disaster and ensures that all information regarding the threat or impact is consolidated under a single umbrella agency while its core function is to coordinate public health events of national, regional and international importance.

James explained that international health concerns are managed through the International Health Regulation (IHR), an international legal instrument that is binding on 196 countries across the world and the WHO.

While diseases such as yellow fever (YF) can be of grave national concern, it also has international ramification since the disease can be spread by travellers visiting other countries.

The HEOC submits weekly reports to the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), a unit that reports directly to the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, who is the government’s point person for coordinating  and managing disasters..

Regional Chairman of Upper Takutu/Upper Essequibo, Mr. Brian Allicock who addressed the opening ceremony highlighted the importance of readiness by RDC and other inter-sectoral agency officials for prompt and effective response in the event that Lethem or other communities suffer any natural or health disaster.

“This programme here would set your minds to see how we are can be best prepared for situations as they may arrive. While we are looking at disaster and risk management, exercises like these are essential within the Regional structure.”, Allicock said.

Kerry Jarvis, Mayor of Lethem, lauded the Ministry’s effort for conducting the simulation exercise in his municipality. He said it is always beneficial to have consensus and cooperation in everything hence he is happy that the Lethem Town Council (LTC) was given the opportunity to participate in the workshop.

“It is an obvious expectation but nevertheless I’d like to urge you to pay keen attention to whatever medium is being utilised to disseminate information so that at the end of the session we can share our views and join hands for the advancement of this initiative.”, Jarvis said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Alex D’Aguiar, Medical Superintend at the Lethem Hospital said he was happy with the Hospital’s response during the training.

“The simulation exercise which demonstrated the yellow fever and measles cases gave us an opportunity to assess our capabilities presently and take stock of our resources that we have and what is also needed in the event of a health emergency,” D’Aguiar said.

The simulation exercise was the first of its kind in the Region, and D’Aguiar intends to engage his staff and other Region officials in further discussions to conduct a few more exercises to better prepare and equip not only the Lethem Regional Hospital but other collaborating agencies to respond to health crises.

By the end of the three-day programme, participants got insight into developing surveillance activities and how to detect, verify and respond to public health threats. They were also coursed in developing Emergency Operating Centres (HEOCs) at local levels to help deal with emergencies and to implement a rapid vaccination campaign in affected communities.

Other aspects of the three-day programme included creating work flow and triage areas to help increase capacities for attending any epidemic at a Regional hospital; to implement and make functional isolation areas in the Regional Hospitals; to use of PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment worn to minimise exposure to hazards that can cause serious injuries and illnesses); to implement additional control measures for surveillance and isolation of ports of entry with bordering countries; to test the roles and responsibilities of the participants, and to identify areas for improvement in the emergency plan and its implementation.