“We Need to Measure Risks and Vulnerabilities to Better Prepare for an Emergency,” Dr.Ngoy

Articles - Q & A

Last week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) organized a workshop aimed at mapping risks and vulnerabilities of hazards in Eritrea. The workshop was facilitated and led by a team consisting of four experts who facilitated the program from WHO office in Nairobi, Kenya. We had a brief interview with Dr. Ngoy Nsenga, team leader of the Emergency Hub for East and Southern Africa (WHO Health Emergencies Program).

  • -This workshop is what we call vulnerability and risk assessment mapping. What does it mean?

Basically, in the world, we see emergencies, emerging and remerging diseases like Ebola, other emergencies like flood, storms and other man-made disasters. Some might say this is related to climate change but at the end of the day it is an emergency issue. So countries have to deal with emergencies. But if you don’t deal with emergency properly, it can become a disaster, even disease can become a disaster as what happened in the Ebola outbreak that plagued western Africa in recent years. So we should take action not only when emergencies emerge. We need to take action before something happens. We need to prepare ourselves.

Then comes the question of how you prepare if you don’t know what you can be dealing with. You need to be clear what threat or hazard you can deal with. Then you prepare with the knowledge of what you are preparing for. So this workshop is important for this country. It helps to identify what kinds of threats or hazards Eritrea could face? Not only diseases but we can have other hazards such us drought and earthquake. If those kinds of hazards happen, how can the country respond in time with effective means? For you to get ready, you need to know some other factors as well.

What can make the situation worse? What vulnerabilities do we have in terms of the population and health system? In order to address this, the country needs to assess its capacity to respond to emergencies in case a hazard happens. And if that kind of capacity doesn’t exist, it needs to consider what capacities it needs to acquire beforehand.

So far there haven’t occurred big emergency issues. But every country needs to be prepared for any kind of disaster.

  • -How can we measure the risk of these hazards?

After identification of the highest priority hazards or risks, we determine what could be the parameters that we should take into account in terms of capacity that the country should have, in terms of vulnerability not only from the community side but also from the health system side. Then we came up with indicators for each of these parameters. For us to measure the risk we need to measure those parameters of vulnerably and capacity. So this is what we have been doing. Risk analysis is done using as a guide the equation, Hazard (H) = Probability (P) x Exposure (E) x Impact (I).

What remains now is the collection of data, information and the analysis. After analyzing, we make recommendations to the decision makers and practitioners in this country. This is what is needed to be done in order to reduce the risk of all kinds of the hazards identified.

  • -How was the workshop and how did you find the commitment and contribution of the participants?

I have conducted this exercise in many African countries. This is my 16th country and found it very exceptional. First, the group was very clear on what they want, where they want the country to go and what exactly they can do to help the mapping process going well. So it becomes easier for the facilitator when there is such a group that knows what they want for the country.

Second what strikes me is their dedication. I could see not only what the people want but they are really dedicated to make things work in terms of emergency preparedness in this country. These are the particularities I found working in this group.

  • -What conclusions did you come up with at the end of the process and how is it going to be finalized?

Throughout the days of identification and analyzing the potential hazards Eritrea can face, we came up with a list of events or hazards that Eritrea is supposed to face that can represent a threat to the country at a national level and which Eritrea must be prepared for. The group identified ten hazards as that must be given prioritized preparedness plan. They range from drought to Ebola because of the context in the neighboring countries in that there is a probability that the disease can spread to Eritrea. The others include influenza, Zika virus, road traffic accidents, Meningitis, Yellow Fever and a list of others. I am not saying the others don’t present a threat but these are what the country and the health sector, in particular, should be prepared for.

  • -Final words…

I didn’t have much time to go around the town. I had a little evening walk and I saw that Asmara is very beautiful and peaceful to see and the people are welcoming.

I would like to thank all the people who prepared and organized this workshop and specifically the colleagues at the Ministry of Health and WHO, who made the preparation before the workshop and then made sure everything was ready and that the workshop went very well. I have no doubt they will finalize the mapping process.