UMCOR

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Preserving Health in Crises

UMCOR’s International Disaster Response executive, Melissa Crutchfield, addresses the third Pan-Africa Health Consultation.
UMCOR’s International Disaster Response executive, Melissa Crutchfield, addresses the third Pan-Africa Health Consultation.
James Rollins/UMCOR

By David Tereshchuk*

August 27, 2012—This year’s Pan-Africa Health Consultation, hosted by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), proved the occasion for a major move forward in the overall effort to help African people improve their lives, including, for the first time, preparation in disaster readiness and response.

As in the past, this third Pan-Africa Health Consultation brought together United Methodist health boards from African countries such as Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

UMCOR’s strategy, begun in 2009, of establishing health boards in these countries has been to emphasize purposeful planning and execution, and, just as importantly, to guarantee local ownership for the programs being implemented.

The pan-Africa summit had the aim of ensuring these health boards all have the support and training they need in program planning, budgeting, and communication, and can accordingly maximize their effectiveness and ultimately save more lives.

Significantly, the August 2012 meeting invited, as well as the many health specialists, UMCOR’s executive for International Disaster Response, Melissa Crutchfield, to participate in the proceedings. She spoke about disaster readiness and response, and helped amplify the roles of attendees who, after all, would prove to be a vital resource in the event of disasters occurring in their countries.

Crutchfield said: “A key component of early disaster response is ensuring that the affected population has access to clean water, sanitary conditions, nutritional food sources, and immediate medical care if needed.  So, those health-related elements are absolutely integral to appropriate and effective disaster response, and to preparedness as well.”

As well as ramping-up the health workers’ readiness to help in disasters, the health meeting also addressed the over-arching effort of minimizing the likelihood of future disasters, or at least of their most calamitous effects. In Crutchfield’s words, “Identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities is a key part of disaster risk reduction and very often includes identifying health risks or environmental hazards, and taking measures to reduce their impact on a population.” 

Nyamah Dunbar, UMCOR executive grant officer for Imagine No Malaria—which sponsored the gathering in Accra, Ghana—appreciated the cross-disciplinary approach consolidated during the meeting, especially as it emphasized linkages between malaria and HIV at the community level, maternal and child health, and also disaster preparedness. “This learning environment,” said Dunbar, “is critical, whether you’re talking about AIDS, malaria, TB, polio, or even water and sanitation programs.”

At the end of five days’ deliberations—a longer session than any previous such gathering—participants felt ready for the great challenge of supporting communities in some of the world’s most intractable problem areas.

Crutchfield’s assessment, on a hopeful note, was: “Working together with the health board representatives from across the continent helps to strengthen capacity across a whole range of needs, and to ensure much greater impact—in health and in disaster preparedness, response, and risk reduction.”

Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450  will help communities like those represented by Africa’s various health boards to counter future devastation from disasters.

*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media analyst and a regular contributor to umcor.org.

Your gift to International Disaster Response, Advance #982450  will help communities like those represented by Africa’s various Health Boards to counter future devastation from disasters.