“At the core of effective Health EDRM are efforts to strengthen a country’s health system with a strong emphasis on community participation and action to build resilience and establish the foundation for effective prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from all types of hazardous events including emergencies and disasters.” World Health Organization

  The Community Engagement and Leadership in Epidemic Governance and Response (GELG) project held its first webinar on October 6, 2023. As part of the CELG webinar series, the first session aimed to:

  1. provide participating organizations a common understanding of existing and of developing terminologies/language and frameworks related to health emergency and disaster management, including that of pandemics, for them to initiate or strengthen their efforts to engage policy makers and leaders working on pandemic preparedness and governance; and
  2. discuss developing international instruments and discourses related to pandemic governance that may provide spaces and opportunities for engagement and participation.

The COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented in terms of the scope and the magnitude of its impact and effects on governments and health systems. Actions and interventions to prevent the infection’s spread and mitigate its effects heavily affected economic and social processes, including the administration of programs and the delivery of services for other health concerns including tuberculosis. This has further limited the access and opportunities for engagement in health-related policy making and in program planning among key vulnerable populations (KVPs) and last mile populations (LMPs), accentuating issues of equity and marginalization affecting these groups.

At the onset of the pandemic and the beginning of restrictions, many organizations working with KVPs and LMPs initially found difficulty with coping with the changes and in continuing services, including those that facilitate the engagement and the participation of their partners in governance mechanisms addressing factors related to TB and other infections. As the case in many other institutions, a key factor causing the delayed adaptations identified among these organizations working with KVPs and LMPs was an unfamiliarity with frameworks and practices in health emergency and disaster risk preparedness and management and its governance. Another factor commonly identified contributing to the difficulties among these organizations was the lack of awareness of possible spaces for engagement with national and local governance structures regarding preparations and management interventions related to the pandemic.

For the session, Rachel Otu of ACT Africa reoriented the webinar participants to the CELG project to provide context for as well as an overview for the webinar series.

Jeffry Acaba of APCASO also officially introduced the CELG Website to the participants, describing it as an online knowledge hub.

Dr. Jeremiah Carlo Alejo, a community health and development practitioner from the Philippines, gave a lecture on the basics of pandemic risk management and its governance. During the lecture, he first framed pandemics as a hazard or threat to human security at a global scale. He explained that not all diseases and emergencies will cause a pandemic or a health disaster.

He emphasized that disasters not only come from the presence of a hazard but its interaction with a population’s or organization’s vulnerability to the hazard and its effects as well as the capacities, including interventions, to prevent and mitigate its effects. He, given the uncertainty of the effects of hazards, described resilience to as a lens and goal in preparing for the shocks and effects these hazards cause. He then provided an overview of disaster risk reduction and management as a means to achieve system and institutional resilience. using the WHO Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management Framework and the WHO Five Components of Health Emergency Preparedness, Response and Resilience.

Dr. Alejo reminded the participants that we are still harnessing the lessons from the pandemic and its managements and that there are currently efforts at different levels, particularly at the global level, to translate these lessons to frameworks and policies. He emphasized that woven into these instruments being developed, as well as those already being used, is the recognition of the importance of the participation and the engagement of communities and vulnerable sectors in all aspects of health risk management and governance.

Mr. Acaba, provided an update on one of the instruments being developed, the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting Political Declaration on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response. Released on September 2023, the declaration provides a framework for UN member states for international collaboration and for national government pandemic preparedness and response. It attempts to address glaring global issues that manifested during the pandemic including inequities in access to pandemic-related products including vaccines, unequal levels of development of capacities for medical technology, inadequate international financial architecture and mechanisms, the challenges of misinformation particularly social media, and the need to address social inequities that disproportionately affect vulnerable groups and communities.

The participants agreed that many of their organizations were not prepared for the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and were not aware of mechanisms and platforms for engagement and participation in pandemic governance.  The two lectures provided insight on opportunities as well as challenges in strengthening their capacities to facilitate engagement and participation in the management of health emergency and disaster risks, including pandemics. Before ending the session,

Dr. Alejo provided and overview of the next webinar session, which will focus on the organization’s own experiences with the effects of the pandemic on their operations and engagement with partners and lessons on what they could have prepared for.

Link to Webinar Recording : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTTSGrDXj5M

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