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WHO officials, experts meet to strengthen community engagement

Staff Correspondent
19 May 2024 15:53:18 | Update: 19 May 2024 16:03:39
WHO officials, experts meet to strengthen community engagement

Health officials from across the WHO South-East Asia Region, along with experts from WHO and partner agencies, met this week and discussed a new regional strategic action framework for engaging communities and building their resilience for public health emergencies and addressing other health challenges at the Annual Regional Forum on Community Engagement and Resilience.

Strengthening WHO’s engagement with communities to enhance health outcomes and protect against emergencies is a top priority of Saima Wazed, regional director, WHO South-East Asia, according to a press release.

“Recent crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have shown the need to substantially increase investments in health security and health system resilience for emergencies. In this context, risk communication, and infodemic management, undertaken through the agency of engaged and empowered communities, is the cornerstone of enhancing community resilience,” said the regional director.

She also underscored the importance of these public health interventions, emphasising that, “These are the only ones available before countermeasures and prophylactics are available.”

Tandin Wangchuk, minister of health of the Royal Government of Bhutan, addressed participants during the forum’s opening session.

He said, “It has become clear that risk communication and infodemic management and the active role that various actors in a community can play, in an often complicated and perplexing information ecosystem, are truly imperative constituents of a comprehensive response to health emergencies.”

Over the three-day event, health officials and experts reviewed the draft 'Strategic Action Framework for Enhancing Community Engagement and Resilience to Health Emergencies in the WHO South-East Asia Region (2024-2027)'.

The strategic action framework aims to guide community-centred approaches to health emergency risk management.

Before the deliberations on the new strategic action framework, officials and health experts attended an in-depth and operational two-day training on infodemic management. Infodemics are caused by an overabundance of information — regardless of accuracy — during disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies.

Managing infodemics requires a multidisciplinary and multifaceted approach that involves identifying and addressing public concerns, filling information gaps, combating misinformation and disinformation, and working closely with partners and communities.

“Actively involving communities in decision-making processes ensures that interventions are acceptable, accessible, and sustainable.

Central to this should be using locally crafted solutions for local needs, specific to local socio-economic realities and health vulnerabilities,” the Regional Director said.

The WHO South-East Asia Region, home to over a quarter of the global population, faces a multitude of health emergencies including infectious diseases and natural disasters. Environmental factors exacerbate these challenges, leading to a higher prevalence of respiratory and vector-borne illnesses.

Additionally, the Region grapples with a rising burden of non-communicable diseases, further straining healthcare resources during crises.