This week, a group of people with a diverse set of health skills were dropped in the country of “Baruna” to respond to devastating floods. In teams they hit the ground and rushed to figure out what the impacts of the disaster were on people’s health, prioritise health issues, and make plans of action to prevent illness and save lives. They’ve been thrown into tense meetings with stakeholders, negotiated with angry and confused community members, prepared for meetings with the Ministry of Health and figured out how to work with other response sectors. There has been little sleep, high pressure and plenty of debate.

“Baruna” is not a real place, but it’s problems in the wake of a flood disaster are. With the support of the Canadian Red Cross, and hosted by Colombia Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has been training over 20 participants from Red Cross National Societies in Latin America to address health in the response to an emergency. This is the second of two rounds of training held in the Americas, with the first taking place in Suriname, with participants from the Caribbean region, Latin America and Europe.

When disaster strikes, the health and well-being of people is significantly impacted and tough decisions about how we can best save lives and protect well-being have to be made. “The training Is very fast paced, very intense. As an epidemiologist I knew I had something to offer to disaster responses in our region. I now know how I can use my skills and the resources of the entire Red Cross Red Crescent community to prevent outbreaks and save lives after disasters.” says Julio Cuevas, Epidemiologist and volunteer with the Paraguay Red Cross.

The trainees, a combination of public health specialists, doctors, nurses and health programme managers, are being given the opportunity to test their emergency response skills in a high-pressure environment using a problem-based learning approach. They are learning about the wealth of knowledge, resources and tools that are on hand to respond to health in disasters and how to support responding Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies to call on the support and tools.

“When disaster does strike the region, I am more confident than ever that we will have a group of skilled professionals to call on to help communities in need. Thanks to this training, we were able to strengthen the response that Red Cross National Societies can provide.” explains Dr Jorge Huarachi, Community and Emergency Health Coordinator for IFRC in the Americas.

The Public Health in Emergencies (PHiE) training was held in Bogotá, Colombia, from 15-20 October, and in Paramaribo, Suriname, from 30 July to 4 August 2018. It is the first training of this kind to be held in the region and hopes to build capacity to respond to increasing threats of outbreaks and climate-related disasters in the Americas.