“The focus of the mission was to enhance the capacity of the early warning alert and response network (EWARN) and ensure rapid detection, verification and response to communicable diseases alerts and outbreaks”, the WHO office for the Eastern Mediterranean said in a statement issued on Thursday.
They identified areas in preparedness and response that needed strengthening, said WHO, and carried out several field visits, including to Maaret Tamsrin, one of the areas impacted by the earthquake, to assess the local hospital and the integration of reception centres as part of the wider early warning system review.
Two reception centres were also visited for water quality monitoring, and the drinking water tested in coordination with a Syrian NGO, resulting in a recommendation to chlorinate water supply at the centres.
Mission members also boosted capacity in the rapid response teams (RRTs) which have been set up for cholera and other epidemic-prone diseases. This included a two-day online RRT training course on how to establish teams at reception centres.
“RRTs are vital, as the members can rapidly investigate and respond to outbreaks and communicable diseases”, said Dr Sherein Elnossery of the Infectious Hazard Prevention unit at the WHO Regional Office, who was part of the mission and delivered the training.
More than 150 participants attended the training from surveillance, community health care, WASH and medical teams. It included sessions on outbreak response, community engagement, water and hygiene services.
In addition, the psychological impact of community crises was addressed, and participants instructed on providing psychological first aid.
Strengthening cholera response
During the mission, the WHO team worked to strengthen the coordination and leadership of the response to cholera and other epidemic-prone diseases. They also supervised the implementation of an oral cholera vaccination campaign targeting 1.7 million people in Dana and Harim subdistricts.
Additionally, team members assessed the risk of the existing cholera outbreak expanding and, accordingly, 10 subdistricts in north-west Syria with a target population of 1.12 million people have been identified for oral cholera vaccine campaigns.
Dr Elnossery insisted that WHO “will continue to support the affected areas in northwest Syria to recover from the earthquake”.