NewsStrengthen cross-border cooperation to respond to global health

Strengthen cross-border cooperation to respond to global health

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on international borders became evident, revealing disruptions in the movement of essential goods and a lack of coordination among point of entry (PoE) authorities. This article explores the challenges faced by these front-line authorities and the initiatives taken to enhance their capacities in responding to public health emergencies.

Dr. Evangelos Karagiannis, a Public Health Doctor at the Port Health Authority of Thessaloniki, Greece, highlights the confusion and distrust resulting from poorly defined roles of PoE authorities during the early stages of the pandemic. The clearance of crucial goods, including medical devices and personal protective equipment, faced hindrances due to the unclear coordination.

Point of entry authorities, encompassing ports, ground crossings, and airports, play a crucial role in preventing, detecting, and responding to public health events related to international travel and transport. As outlined in the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005), PoEs must have routine core-capacity requirements and emergency contingency plans to effectively address public health emergencies of international concern.

The significance of PoEs in maintaining trade connectivity and facilitating cross-border movements has been underscored by the challenges posed by COVID-19. Dr. Karagiannis emphasizes the need for collaboration among institutions to not only address immediate pandemic responses but also to build resilience and preparedness for future disruptions.

To address these challenges and strengthen health system capacities, WHO/Europe, in collaboration with the WHO Collaborating Centre for the International Health Regulations at the University of Thessaly, Greece, organized a subregional workshop on border health in Thessaloniki from November 21 to 23, 2023. The workshop aimed to collectively enhance capacities for detecting and containing public health threats at PoEs, with a specific focus on ports and ground crossings.

The workshop brought together 39 public health officials, IHR national focal points, and experts from the western Balkans and surrounding countries. Discussions and knowledge exchange centered around the implementation of IHR (2005) core capacities for border health, identifying gaps, and prioritizing actions to strengthen cross-border collaboration.

Dorothea Panagiotou, Public Health Inspector at the Port Health Authority of Thessaloniki, emphasized the importance of such workshops in sharing experiences and ideas with counterparts. She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought PoE authorities in touch with each other, highlighting the need for continued cooperation in the future.

Professor Christos Hadjichristodoulou, President of the Greek National Public Health Organization, and EU Healthy Gateways Joint Action Coordinator, sees the workshop as a unique opportunity to build and maintain a regional network of PoE experts. This network aims to foster future cooperation, knowledge exchange, and the sharing of best practices to enhance border health collaboration.

Tanja Schmidt, Team Lead, Preparedness, Readiness and Capacity Building, Health Emergencies Programme, WHO/Europe, stressed the importance of capacity-building activities at PoEs to support cross-border collaboration. She highlighted the role of PoEs as the frontline in preventing, detecting, and responding to public health risks.

Dr. Abebayehu Assefa Mengistu, Coordinator of the WHO Health Emergencies Balkan Hub, emphasized the necessity of core capacities for timely detection and effective response to potential health hazards at PoEs. The ultimate goal is to ensure countries are capable of responding to health threats at PoEs both during routine times and emergencies.

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