The Health Emergencies Alliance mobilizes for Türkiye and Syria
In the early hours of Monday February 6th, two devastating earthquakes hit southeast Türkiye and the northern Syrian Arab Republic (Syria), killing over 41,000 and leaving a tragic trail of destruction and grief for people who have lost a mother, a son, a friend, a partner beneath the rubble – or who don’t know whether their loved ones are alive or dead.
What are the health implications of such a devastating phenomenon? What challenges lie ahead? How is the WHO Foundation and its partners helping WHO respond to this emergency?
Besides the enormous loss of life and thousands of people injured, much of the infrastructure of the impacted areas are significantly damaged or destroyed, and hospitals and other health facilities have not been spared.
Today, 26 million people in Turkey and Syria are in need of humanitarian support; of which five million are children, the elderly or disabled. WHO is doing everything necessary to provide a wide range of health services in all affected areas. WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ visit to Syria on Saturday, February 11th was an important signal in that direction.
The WHO Director General has outlined the scale of the challenge, saying that responders faced ‘a race against time’ to assist survivors in the face of freezing conditions, limited access to shelter, water, heat and medical care; and he urged solidarity to ‘alleviate the suffering of people who have already suffered so much’.
Preliminary damage assessments in Syria indicate that the sub-districts of Harim, Atmeh, Salqin, Sarmada, Atarib, and Kafr Takharim are among the worst-hit areas. All across the country, at least 20 health facilities, including four hospitals, have sustained damage, affecting access to healthcare. Thousands of families are without shelter, either because their homes were destroyed or damaged, or simply because they are too afraid to go indoors. Instead, they are seeking shelter in vehicles, outside in public parks, or in crowded but stable indoor places like mosques, schools and community centers. However, overcrowded indoor spaces increase the risk of epidemics of communicable and respiratory diseases like COVID-19.
Eighty hospitals and primary health facilities are reported to be damaged in Türkiye and Syria.
The huge number of casualties is overstretching hospitals’ capacities to adequately operate and many people are now receiving medical care in temporary tents. Among the primary needs identified are trauma care for injured patients, essential medicines, emergency kits, access to health services, mental health and psychosocial support and the coordination of Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs).
WHO is also supporting activities focused on prevention and control of disease outbreaks. This is important as Syria was experiencing outbreaks of cholera and measles before the earthquakes. In addition, the shortage of clean water will leave many vulnerable to waterborne diseases.
How is the WHO Foundation’s Health Emergencies Alliance responding?
The WHO Foundation quickly launched a fundraising campaign to support WHO’s response across Türkiye and Syria, and immediately activated the Health Emergencies Alliance (HEA), its new partnership program with the private sector in support of WHO’s emergency response. The Alliance provides flexible and predictable funding for the WHO Health Emergency Appeal and WHO’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies – the latter of which has released resources destined for Türkiye and Syria.
The HEA was created as a coordinated, collective effort to ensure WHO is prepared to face the immense health challenges that emergencies bring. Almost immediately following the earthquakes, the WHO Foundation received additional funding for WHO’s earthquake response from HEA founding members.
Foundation S – The Sanofi Collective donated EUR 250,000 to support emergency access to healthcare and WHO’s in-country disaster relief interventions.
“This is an important time for the Alliance to come together in support of the region, collaborating with leaders from public and private sectors, to address quickly and effectively the needs of those in most need. Our aim is to help support immediate humanitarian relief and future reconstruction efforts, and this donation, among others, reflects the commitment we have to ensuring everyone has access to the medical treatment they need, leaving no one behind”.
Vanina Laurent-Ledru, Director General, Foundation S – The Sanofi Collective.
Spotify is supporting the WHO Foundation’s appeal by leveraging the power of its global platform and reach. Spotify wants to support major contributions of partners like WHO to amplify impact where it is needed most.
“As a global brand, we know we have an impact on the world, our industry and our listeners every single day, and for us influence means also responsibility. Today we choose to stand with Türkiye and Syria, engage our network and use our platform for good.”
Elizabeth Nieto, VP, Global Head of Equity and Impact
How is WHO responding?
WHO has a long-standing presence in both Syria and Türkiye, where it works with local health authorities and the Ministries of Health, to coordinate health interventions including disaster relief efforts to ensure the response is streamlined and resources are allocated where needed.
WHO is, in addition, mobilizing resources as well as coordinating the international Health Cluster in collaboration with international and local partners. In the whole of Syria, WHO collaborates with 185 health partners, including the Syrian Red Crescent, and 44 of them are in the northwest operating from Gaziantep.
Already, WHO has responded by releasing more than US$ 16 million from its Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE), including US$ 3 million within the 72 hours after the earthquakes. WHO has deployed supplies and personnel to the affected areas and delivered trauma kits to at least 16 hospitals in northwest Syria.
WHO mobilized three charter flights from its logistics hub in Dubai in the days following the earthquakes resulting in the delivery of more than 100 metric tons of trauma and emergency surgery supplies and medicines. In total, these life-saving supplies will be used to treat and care for 400,000 people as well as supporting 120,000 urgent surgical interventions in both countries.
Access to Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MPHSS) service will be expanded with the establishment of an MHPSS hotline, mobile teams, strengthened referral pathways and rapid refresher training on psychological first aid.
Surveillance and disease outbreak prevention activities are also ongoing, as is the continuity of essential healthcare service, particularly reproductive health care, an expanded immunization program and treatment of non-communicable diseases.
The WHO Foundation continues to work to mobilize resources to advance the mission of WHO, to help build a healthier world for all. The Foundation is calling on businesses to join the WHO Foundation’s Health Emergencies Alliance at the forefront of enabling WHO to respond swiftly and effectively to disasters around the world.
To find out more information about the Health Emergencies Alliance (HEA), visit https://who.foundation/what-we-do/#HEAL or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Silvia Rossini.