Public Health Emergency Operations Center
Countries have been faced with several public health emergencies and outbreaks in the last decade. In the African region countries’ systems and economies have experienced devastating effects of disease outbreaks that in some extreme cases have led to collapse of their health systems and a collapse of their economies. Somalia faces diverse threats to public health including infectious disease outbreaks, natural hazards, the health consequences of climate change, wars, and contamination from chemical, biological and radiation agents. These threats in the past have demonstrated having the potential to disrupt livelihoods, destroy infrastructure, interrupt economic activities, retard development and lead to diversion of resources to response activities.
To succeed, the global community needs an effective, well-coordinated and efficient system of response to this pandemic, and any other public health emergency that may emerge in the future. A functioning public health emergency operations center (PHEOC) serves as the central platform for coordination of response to public health emergencies including international threats from emerging and re-emerging epidemics/ pandemics, as mandated by the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005.
The Federal Government of Somalia is looking into building the country’s preparedness and response capacities as guided by the country’s Joint External Evaluation (JEE) recommendations. In this regard the Federal Ministry of Health, led by the National Institute for Health (NIH) Somalia is working towards establishing a National PHEOC within the NIH and satellite PHEOCs at the state level. The PHEOCs will be tasked with the responsibility of coordinating the preparedness for and response to public health emergencies. For this to be actualized a PHOEC handbook and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been developed to guide the establishment of structures and systems for effective and efficient public health emergency response. These documents have been closely linked to the WHO framework for Public Health Emergencies and IHR (2005) which on implementation will help the country as a signatory to the regulations fulfil in part some of its obligations.
One of the critical roles of the Somalia public health systems is to conduct surveillance and coordinate response to threats and events that could directly or indirectly affect the health of populations and overwhelm the health system’s capacity to respond as well as provide continuum care to other critical patients. While the Ministry of Health and Human Services has responded to public health emergencies using existing structures in the past, the efficacy levels were not fully attained. The PHEOC’s mandate is to coordinate the implementation of the country’s emergency management plan.
The PHEOC will be part of a network of national and international Emergency Operating Centers (EOCs). As mentioned, this will include the state level PHEOCs, and EOCs within the World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Swedish Public Health Institute and other country EOCs within the region. This network plays a central role in the coordination of emergency response using the all-hazards approach.
The objectives of a PHEOC include:
- Coordination of the response to public health events / emergencies with all relevant stakeholders including national and state government entities;
- Mobilization and deployment of resources, including surge capacity, services and supplies to support all PHEOC functions;
- Make timely, event-specific operational decision using available information, policy, technical advice and plans;
- Collection, collation, analysis, presentation and utilization of health event data and information to guide the response; and
- Designing appropriate health messages for creation of public awareness, community engagement and social mobilization.
The PHEOC’s focus is on public health aspect of the following events:
- Natural events such as: disease outbreaks and natural hazards/ disasters
- Man-made events such as: mass casualty incidents; radiological or nuclear events; bioterrorism and other biological events; chemical incidents; and any other Public Health Events of International Concern (PHEICs)
- EOC locations in majority of Somalia finalized and currently establishment in all locations is ongoing
- Training and capacity development of all staff that will be working in each EOC commencing