Ms. Päivi Sillanaukee (centre), Permanent Secretary at Finland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, receives the Damir Čemerin Award on behalf of the Finnish Global Health Security Agenda team, from Mr. Robert Glasser (left), the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, and Mr. Kai Mykkänen (right), Finland’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development (Photo: Pasi Autio)
By Jonathan Fowler
HELSINKI, 3 October 2016 – The Finnish arm of an international grouping working to ward off biological and health threats such as Ebola and the Zika virus has won a pan-European award that recognises innovative approaches to reducing disaster risk.
The Finnish Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) team received the Damir Čemerin Award at the opening in Helsinki of the three-day European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The GHSA, set up in 2014, was the brainchild of the United States and now involves almost 50 nations working towards a common goal of boosting global and national capacity to deal with infectious diseases threats, as well as strengthening global health security.
The main aims of the programme are to develop health systems and services in order to combat threats to health such as those posed by infectious diseases.
Finland used its time at the helm of the GHSA in 2015 to develop an assessment tool that can be used to measure countries’ health security. It was piloted that year in Georgia, Peru, Portugal, Uganda, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
Since then, it has been deployed by the World Health Organization in Albania, Armenia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Morocco, Mozambique, Pakistan, Qatar, Tanzania, Turkmenistan, and the United States. Another 32 evaluations have been scheduled.
“It’s based on the idea of preventing, detecting and responding,” said Mr. Kai Mykkänen, Finland’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, who presented the award alongside Mr. Robert Glasser, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Accepting the award on behalf of the Finnish team, Ms. Päivi Sillanaukee, Permanent Secretary at Finland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, underlined the GHSA’s role in working across national boundaries and straddling different sectors, from health and government to business and civil society.
“Multi-sectoral team work, the coordination of multi-stakeholder partners globally, regionally and at the country level, as well as the empowerment and participation of countries’ own experts and leaders are key elements for successful disaster risk reduction,” she said.
“Finland has a strong tradition of multi-sectorality. The work we have done in GHSA shows that a small country can have a powerful impact and change the way countries and different stakeholders work even in quite a short time frame,” she added.
The work of the GHSA tallies with the goals of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a wide-ranging, 15-year international agreement that was adopted at a UN conference in March last year. Its seeks to achieve substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in terms of lives, livelihoods and health, and economic damage.
The Sendai Framework aims to bring about a paradigm shift from managing disasters to managing the underlying risk factors which drive those disasters. It goes beyond the traditional remit of natural hazards to include technological disasters such as nuclear accidents, and biological threats such as outbreaks of Ebola, SARS, H1N1, dengue or the Zika virus, which repeatedly have shown the potential of acute public health risks to cross borders and threaten people worldwide.
The Sendai Framework also seeks to engineer a change in the traditional perspective on disaster management so that health – including public health and public health infrastructure – becomes a key area of focus for disaster risk reduction. That is particularly important given that an under-resourced and poorly protected health system can multiply the impact of any disaster event on exposed and vulnerable populations.
The Damir Čemerin Award is named after a founder member of the European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction, who died in 2013 after long service in support of disaster risk reduction in his home country of Croatia as well as globally.