At a time of mounting health emergencies worldwide, from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and climate-related crises to the protracted war in Ukraine, more than 500 participants from the Emergency Medical Team (EMT) Network across WHO’s six regions are in Yerevan, Armenia, for the 5th EMT Global Meeting this week.
The three-day gathering offers participants from over 110 countries - including EMTs, technical experts and international partners across a range of organizations – an opportunity to reflect on lessons learnt from the response to multiple emergencies, including innovative and lifesaving approaches, and to discuss how to further strengthen the WHO-supported EMT Initiative going forward.
“Armenia is pleased to host this week’s meeting, especially given our experiences tackling multiple emergencies in recent decades, from the horrific 1988 earthquake that claimed up to 25,000 lives to the 2020 War in Nagorno-Karabakh and the recent escalation that targeted the settlements of the Republic of Armenia, causing further loss of life”, noted Anahit Avanesyan, Minister of Health of Armenia. “For us, EMTs are a critical extension of the wider health ecosystem, and we are grateful to WHO and all our health and development partners for sharing their expertise and creating a platform for regional and global collaboration, helping us learn from others, and to share our experiences as well."
EMT 2030 Strategy: a high impact investment in preparedness for emergencies
The 5th EMT Global Meeting is a landmark as it launches the EMT 2030 strategy—the blueprint for the next eight years to continue to develop a network of effective and high-performing national, subnational and regional EMTs in line with the WHO EMT classification and minimum standards. Participants from the network will contribute to the future development of the EMT Initiative that seeks to prioritize and enhance the capacity of local teams to respond to emergencies and strengthen the network to provide support when needed across diverse contexts.
“As we build a new and stronger architecture for health emergency preparedness and response, a rapidly deployable global health emergency corps will be vital, building on the experience and capacities of Emergency Medical Teams,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, in his opening statement at the meeting. ”The EMT 2030 strategy envisions a world in which every country has the ability to respond rapidly and effectively to national emergencies, leveraging regional and sub-regional capacities to support vulnerable communities and others in need.”
Lessons from COVID-19
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third year, has created an especially challenging context for emergency response in many countries, increasing the demand for specialized skills on infection prevention and control, and the management of severe respiratory infection cases. In response to this, the EMT network deployed nearly 200 International EMTs to support the response in 67 countries, highlighting the role of specialized care teams that both support a country’s response while building their national capacities.
“The pandemic truly revealed the importance of strengthening in-country health emergency response capacities, including a highly-trained workforce and access to essential technology and equipment,” said Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “But the crisis also shone a brighter light on the benefits of collaboration between EMTs and other operational response arms of WHO, like Rapid Response Mobile Laboratories of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network which extended the capacity of EMTs to diagnose cases faster, leading to quicker treatment and care. Bringing EMTs and mobile laboratories together is also proving highly successful in the context of humanitarian crises, making the health response more effective in areas where health facilities and systems have been compromised, as well as when countries are receiving significant numbers of refugees with multiple emergency health needs.”
About the EMT Initiative: A rapidly growing network
EMTs are groups of health professionals, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, support workers and logisticians, who provide care for patients affected by an emergency.
The EMT Initiative was formed after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, quickly growing into a significant network of qualified medical teams, trained and prepared to provide immediate support during an emergency. So far, 37 International teams have already been classified by WHO, with nearly 100 more currently undergoing the classification process to meet the highest standards of healthcare assistance in emergencies.
When emergencies strike, the EMT network is mobilized as part of the national response—treating patients, imparting training to and supervision of emergency care providers, strengthening coordination between different pillars of emergency medical response, and adhering to guiding principles and standards to ensure quality of care.