The Preparedness and Early Response to Public Health Emergencies (PEPH) project seeks to work with groups at all levels from communities to government to create a disease preparedness system that really works and saves lives. Our team have been gathering vital insights from the lived experiences of communities and health professionals in South Omo and Konso to help establish baseline information. This is essential to monitor the performance of our work, spot potential problems and easily identify areas for change.
A key area to improve on is the knowledge of all parties involved in emergency response. We have gained some valuable insights into where there are gaps, which will influence our plans going forward.
It is reassuring to find that a considerable portion of the community know about climate sensitive diseases, however this was much lower with certain groups including females, children and young people, people with lower levels of education, farmers and daily labourers. It is very important that we engage these groups to ensure the project is reaching the most vulnerable. Across communities we are seeing low levels of understanding on how to respond to health emergencies.
We also identified that there were low levels of training of the government’s public health emergency management plan (PHEM) among health workers. PHEM exists to guide those involved in public health emergency management to prepare for disease outbreaks and so has a direct impact on the devastation resulting from health emergencies.
In addition, most health workers shared that they don’t use climate information to forecast disease outbreaks, however the majority did indicate that they thought this was important for them to understand.
Communication about preparedness and response is essential both during the build up to a disaster and during. However, we found that there were many issues with communication between groups.
Much of the information held by health workers about PHEM is not effectively being communicated with the community. This is in part due to lack of community structures but also due to a lack of responsibility taken to share the knowledge, often because this is not the primary purpose of health workers' roles. Building a stronger sense of responsibility among all groups about preparedness and early warnings is a vital component for our project.
Also while it is positive that health workers are a trusted source of information, their reach has a limit, especially if there are any dangers associated with travelling due to an impending climate emergency. Mass media channels have the ability to spread the message much further if the information is trusted. We therefore have a role to increase trust in mass media as part of an early warning system as this will support the health workers in reaching harder to reach communities.
Community Led Plans
We know that a community that is well-informed are able to coordinate and prepare well in responding to emergencies. Consistent feedback from communities and health workers is that there is a lack of involvement from communities to put plans into practice.
Using the participatory approaches, this project will encourage communities to lead and take ownership of plans to tackle disease outbreaks. These plans will be led by a taskforce who will connect with the health centres to ensure their plans align well. They also help to foster cooperation between government and the community that will reduce the impact of disasters on the public’s health.
Using the insights gained above we are working on activities to fill these gaps and are closely tracking the impact of what we do.
Training and support to health facilities on the use of PHEM will be provided and the project impact will be tracked by measuring how many health institutions use the PHEM system by the end of the project. This is also the case for sharing early warnings on climate related disease outbreaks. Thresholds for new climate sensitive diseases will also be developed as part of the project. This will be used to produce information about climate related diseases hazards for the health sector and for sharing with communities, triggering early response protocols.
Health facilities are being trained to set up plans that have stronger structures and processes to respond to and anticipate health hazards. These will include plans to improve coordination between health facilities, which is currently lacking.
We will also help communities to maintain a healthy environment to prevent communicable diseases and will be supporting communities to develop their own preparedness plans.