Trained Public Health and Emergency Management Called on to Lead Disaster Response in Eastern Africa
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Tulane University + Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences and Makerere University Institute of Public Health
On December 25, 2009, the water level of the Mkondoa River in Tanzania increased to heights so great that the neighboring communities were forced to evacuate, displacing thousands of people. The expertise and readiness of trainees in Disaster Management response was tested when The Kilosa District declared a disaster, and the Tanzanian Government made its first call to the District Disaster Management Team from Kilosa to assist in responding to the devastation – because the Government knew that the team had been trained by HEMP.
HEMP, or Health Emergencies Management Project, was born out of an initiative through an HED managed and USAID funded partnership formed by seven schools of Public Health in Eastern Africa, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Tulane University, for the enhancement of capacity for public health leadership in East Africa - known as the Leadership Initiative for Public Health in East Africa (LIPHEA). Leaders from these schools realized that to have an impact on the high levels of mortality and morbidity in the region, health systems in East Africa needed managers who take the initiative to lead. They came together to create the Higher Education Alliance for Leadership Through Health (HEALTH).
One of the first initiatives of HEALTH was the creation of HEMP, the purpose of HEMP being to build capacity for operational levels in each of the member countries to plan for disaster response. In a region that is prone to many severely destructive natural disasters, there was no plan for disaster management beyond the national level, despite the fact that many of these disasters require local support and response systems. In addition to analysis of disaster management capacity and overhaul of district level disaster management response plans, HEMP has trained over 40 trainers in Tanzania and Uganda, who have in turn trained over 270 personnel in the new disaster management response plans.
As a result of the December flooding in Tanzania, a total of 24,000 people were displaced into temporary camps. HEMP-trained responders organized and distributed supplies of tents, mosquito nets, and water purification systems, in addition to setting up a cinema van to deliver health promotion messages and an information van to help the community learn to prevent diarrheal diseases. Post-disaster assessment found that diarrhea levels did not increase during the displacement, indicating that sanitary conditions were well managed.
More recently, On March 1, 2010, landslides occurred in the Bududa district of Uganda, burying three entire villages and resulting in hundreds of deaths, missing persons, and injured victims. 5,000 people were temporarily relocated as a result.
Because of HEMP, district officials, the Red Cross, and the Disaster Department from the Prime Minister’s Office were able to turn the chaotic situation into a manageable one by using the disaster management plans designed through HEMP trainings. In fact, approximately 30 HEMP trained experts were directly involved in the Bududa response, including four Trainers of Trainers who provided leadership at the landslide site and the relocation camps.
According to the communities involved, the HEMP trained responders’ presence was felt throughout the districts during the evacuation and subsequent relief efforts as a positive force in managing the disasters. Post-relief feed-back from HEMP responders revealed that the trainees wished they had been given more practical training, in addition to the theoretical training included in the original HEMP curriculum. As a result of this finding, HEMP is currently working with the CDC to incorporate simulation training into the curriculum so that local teams are even better prepared to respond effectively to the next disaster.