Wednesday, May 30 – The impact of the 2017 hurricane season on member states of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) was reviewed at a two day After Action Review (AAR) meeting on May 28 and 29.

During this meeting, health representatives from the impacted countries of Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Maarten, Turks and Caicos Islands and the BVI also developed a plan for improving health response in the Caribbean region.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Mrs. Petrona Davies welcomed the participants and stated that as one of the hardest hit jurisdictions, it was most fitting that the workshop was convened in the BVI where participants could witness firsthand, not only the lingering effects, but also the incipient challenges arising from complex issues that BVI residents have been forced to confront on an unprecedented scale, such as debris management and housing recovery.

Mrs. Davies explained, “For the health sector, the landscape in which we are operating is changing, and we must continually adapt in order to meet evolving needs but there are some things that remain constant, such as our longstanding relationship with PAHO. I am honored to have this opportunity to acknowledge PAHO’s sterling contributions to the people of the Virgin Islands and the region in our disaster relief and recovery efforts.”

Head of the PAHO Team and Regional Health Advisor Dr. Dana van Alphen spoke about the importance of the After Action Review.

She said, “This is an opportunity to speak openly as a group to identify the issues that arose and to capture the things that worked well.  We have to learn from our mistakes and be in a position to address the coordination challenges as well as arrive at consensus on how to move forward and prepare for what may affect us in the future.”

Dr. van Alphen called for greater focus on early recovery.  She highlighted the importance of having a thorough rapid assessment to guide the recovery process and to alleviate the confusion that is usually seen in this phase.

She said, “Many priorities emerge following a disaster but we must depend on the data that is captured in the rapid assessment phase to guide these priorities.  Some of these priorities are difficult to achieve.  Debris Management is one of the most challenging areas to address.  The resources are primarily in the private sector and they are not cheap.  A plan to engage the private sector and to finance this aspect is critical.  This is not a function to be performed by a single government entity.  It must be seen as a cross ministry approach and a major activity needed to achieve early recovery outcomes.”

The After Action Review meeting allowed for various presentations to be delivered including the experience of a well-known Non-Government Organisation, Americares that works to improve health for affected people.  They provided significant support to Dominica post Maria.

The meeting also accommodated presentations from impacted islands.  The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) presented on the ‘Building Back Better Process’ and the connections with a SMART Approach which provide a methodology for connecting resiliency, environmental protection and health. DDM officials also led a panel discussion on logistics and relief distribution.

The meeting is expected to capture a number of recommendations on mobilisation of medical response teams, building capacity to undertake preliminary health sector assessments and the provision of financial and human resources to countries that have been significantly affected and require assistance to initiate effective coordination efforts.

One of the main outcomes of the meeting, facilitated by PAHO in collaboration with the DDM, was a discussion and a plan for preparing for the 2018 Hurricane Season.

The AAR meeting will be followed by a meeting of Health Disaster Coordinators which will be held in Barbados in two weeks.