The World Health Organization has taken its fight against the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 to a global level, helping countries respond to this new threat in a myriad of ways.
One such response has been through the “Call to Action” initiative, which has been borne out of the need to support countries, particularly those affected by humanitarian crises, in their efforts to protect their citizens from the impact of the influenza virus.
The “Call to Action” was launched in August 2009 and applied in a country for the first time in September in Zimbabwe. It provides a strategy that both pools the skills and knowledge of multiple governments, United Nations agencies and non-governmental agencies, as well as sets out a wide range of public health measures – not only pharmaceutical – to help vulnerable communities prepare for and respond to the pandemic.
“It is clear that no one agency or body can respond to the pandemic alone. We all must work together,” said Dr. Eric Laroche, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises. “We must do this by using a wide range of techniques and resources to protect people from the pandemic.”
The “Call to Action” is an initiative of the World Health Organization, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the UN Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UNICEF. It advocates a set of simple yet effective public health measures to support governments and communities to reduce the impact of the pandemic.
Vaccines and antiviral medicines are key tools in the global response to the pandemic. But in many settings impacted by sudden or long-running humanitarian crises, governments may not be able to purchase enough quantities of such materials to protect their communities against this new strain of influenza. Therefore, the Call to Action identifies non-pharmaceutical measures that can be taken in all countries, including those affected by humanitarian crises, to protect people against the virus.
These include identifying high-risk groups, training, home-based care and voluntary separation of affected people from the wider community. It is also essential to prepare and disseminate risk communication messages by health care workers, volunteers and the community on individual and societal prevention measures in line with national policies and local risk assessment.
It also stresses the need to ensure all basic community services, such as routine healthcare, water and sanitation, are sustained during any pandemic response as broader public health relies on these as well.
More than fifty participants took part in the initial rollout of the initiative in Zimbabwe, including senior Zimbabwean Ministry of Health and Child Welfare officials and experts from key UN, international and local organisations, the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and government missions.
Zimbabwe was chosen as the first country to apply the Call to Action because of the experiences faced, and lessons learned, from its 2008–2009 cholera outbreak that infected almost 100,000 people and killed 4000. In response to the cholera epidemic, Zimbabwean authorities and WHO, Zimbabwe drew up its own proposed H1N1 pandemic preparedness and response plan and committed, in a “Harare Declaration on Preparedness and Response to the Influenza A (H1N1) Pandemic” issued at the end of the meeting, to apply the “Call to Action” measures to its own national pandemic plan.
“Zimbabwe has learned a lot from the cholera outbreak. It has developed systems that will prevent a cholera outbreak of such a scale ever happening again. And the same system will be instrumental in protecting the public from the impact of this new H1N1 pandemic,” said Dr. Custodia Mandlhate, WHO’s Representative to Zimbabwe.
One of the Call to Action’s key initiatives has been to bring humanitarian and health partners together to work in a unified fashion to protect the health of the world’s most vulnerable from the new pandemic.
“The Call to Action is significant because it represents a joint effort by humanitarian actors to better prepare for and respond to the H1N1 pandemic to protect the health of all people, particularly those from countries most in need,” said Dr. Heather Papowitz, the Pandemic and Community Preparedness Focal Point for WHO’s Health Action in Crises.
Call to Action: