Second WHO global technical consultation on public health and social measures during health emergencies, November 2023

Participants of the second global technical consultation on public health and social measures during health emergencies

WHO held its second global technical consultation on public health and social measures (PHSM) during health emergencies from 21 to 23 November 2023 to accelerate PHSM as essential countermeasures for epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention. The meeting brought together 87 experts from various sectors in over 30 countries, representing Member States, academia as well as civil society and international organizations.

PHSM include non-pharmaceutical interventions implemented by individuals, communities, governments and institutions at national and community levels to protect the health and well-being of communities affected by health emergencies. Applying PHSMs aim to reduce the risk and scale of transmission of infectious diseases by decreasing transmission-relevant exposures and/or making them safer.

PHSM were extensively implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, more research is needed to understand the effectiveness of some measures including optimal and context –specific implementation strategies.

Experts review research milestones and identify critical initial actions for the implementation of PHSM

Towards strengthening evidence-informed decision-making and implementation of PHSM during future epidemics and pandemics, the consultation set out to review milestones, tools and resources developed under the WHO Initiative to measure the effectiveness and impact of PHSM during health emergencies. The initiative was launched in June 2021 following the 74th World Health Assembly’s call for a global framework to research, monitor, compare, and evaluate public health and social measures in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the consultation, experts further identified critical initial actions for decision-makers, researchers and communities facilitating a timely, equitable and context-specific PHSM response to infectious diseases outbreaks with epidemic and pandemic potential. The resulting compendium encompasses critical initial actions on PHSM for Aedes-mosquito-borne viruses, zoonotic spillover, and novel respiratory viruses with pandemic potential.

The unique role of communities in the implementation of PHSM strongly emerged during discussions and scenario-based group exercises. Inclusive and participatory approaches to the design and adaptation of PHSM policies are crucial for an equitable and context-specific roll out of PHSM, and can largely improve the uptake and adherence to measures during an outbreak.

Discussions also emphasized the importance of multisectoral collaboration and multilevel coordination including a clear division of authority among the manifold actors involved in implementing PHSM during health emergencies. Experts further called for the consideration of so-called mitigation measures like social protection policies and programs and community-level initiatives to reduce the unintended socio-economic consequences of the more socially disruptive PHSM.

PHSM as critical countermeasure in health emergency management

Experts noted the urgency to advance on the more systematic integration of PHSM into existing emergency preparedness and response frameworks. The strategic positioning of PHSM as a critical countermeasure alongside vaccines, therapeutics and other medical countermeasures will increase the recognition of their complementary roles in the fight against epidemics and pandemics The conclusions of the consultation underscore the need for maintaining political and strategic focus on PHSM to maximize their full potential in saving lives and protecting livelihoods of affected communities during future health emergencies.

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