7. General responsibilities of the health sector

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In an emergency or disaster, the health sector, like any other sectors must meet general and specific responsibilities. The basic general responsibilities are as follows:

General responsibilities of the sector in emergencies and disasters
  1. Intra- and inter-sectoral coordination for collaborative, organized, rapid action.  
  Direct coordination among those working in the health aspects of emergency preparedness and response is essential. Actions must be progressive, moving forward step by step using interinstitutional risk management criteria. The health sector is not responsible for damage assessment and needs analysis in other sectors , but coordination is important so that information from assessments carried out by other sectors is available for an overall vision of the situation.  
  2. Technical assessment of the sector’s own vulnerabilities and resources.  
  Vulnerability analysis should be related to the community and its health facilities, and clarify the capacities, resources, and state of the facilities, as well as direct and indirect damage to them.  
  3. Preparation and implementation of specific or contingency plans for the sector in general, with attention to its different areas and levels.  
  These plans should include an assessment of hazards, vulnerability and risk, as well available resources. They should set forth objectives in line with the operating capacity of each institution; assign priorities for allocating resources based on the competencies present, in order to meet targets; and they should define a clear operational patient referral and counter-referral system.  
  4. Organization and implementation of a telecommunications system coordinated with other agencies and sectors.  
  Routine systems often collapse in the aftermath of disasters, and therefore alternate communication and coordination mechanisms should be in place. A good communication system should be planned and developed in advance, since it is a not only critical to coordination, but essential for rapidly obtaining accurate information for decision-making.  
  5. Education and training of staff and the population for appropriate action within the area of jurisdiction.  
  It is important that the health professionals responsible for providing services to disaster victims know immediately what they must do and quickly do so. Training and practice are required to guarantee that the activities will be carried out effectively without supervision.  
  6. Assessment of damage in the health sector.  
  Determining the magnitude of an event’s impact allows for the appropriate allocation of resources for responding to the disaster and the population’s needs. Staff must be trained to carry out this function. Initial information must be systematically gathered and passed on to higher levels of the authority in order to request assistance and be advised of additional information that is required.  
  7. Organizing and coordinating supply and transportation systems.  
  This is extremely important for those responsible for operations, considering that it is essential that the flow of supplies needed to meet the needs of the affected population be timely and satisfactory.  
  8. Establishing permanent information and communication mechanisms for emergencies and disasters.  
  Communication and the dissemination of information are essential for disaster risk management and humanitarian assistance, especially in the health sector. Thus, a person or unit must be assigned this responsibility so that all health sector levels and institutions remain informed and able to prepare and implement risk reduction and disaster preparedness plans. In emergencies, good communications will make it possible for health authorities to ensure that the community adopts measures to protect its health and obtains medical assistance as necessary.