Saturday, July 13, 2024

Cambodia seeks to strengthen health security through its second Joint External Evaluation

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In 2023, an unprecedented 340 million people worldwide required humanitarian assistance and WHO supported Member States in responding to more health emergencies than ever before. This stark reality underscores that the world remains unprepared for the next pandemic. This can only be changed if all countries have the capacity to prevent and to rapidly detect, verify, notify and respond effectively to all public health threats.

Since 2023, Cambodia has faced multiple health-related events, including avian influenza, mpox, dengue, methanol poisoning and annual floods. Rapid and ongoing climate and environmental changes, along with political and economic shocks, are increasing the risk posed by all hazards and heightening health risks.  To strengthen the country’s preparedness and response capabilities, Cambodia has undertaken a comprehensive assessment of its health security core capacities through the Joint External Evaluation (JEE) process.

The JEE, a voluntary, collaborative and multisectoral effort, serves as a strategic tool for identifying areas for improvement in national health security systems. Cambodia conducted its first JEE in 2016. Although the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges in fully implementing the JEE’s recommendations, it also presented the opportunity to accelerate core International Health Regulations (IHR) capacities development in real time and Cambodia made significant progress in enhancing its ability to handle health security threats as reported in the final scores of the current JEE. In 2024, 59%, or 33 out of 56 indicators, were assessed as having demonstrated and developed capacities. This is an increase from the 2016 JEE report, where only 42%, or 20 out of 48 indicators, were assessed as so. While the results are not directly comparable, Cambodia has seen improved capacities in critical areas, including surveillance, national laboratory systems, health services provision, infection prevention and control, and emergency response management. 

Group photo of participants of the JEE workshop session

Dr Marianna Trias, WHO Representative to Cambodia, H.E. Prof. CHHEANG Ra, Cambodia’s Minister of Health, and the JEE experts attend the final workshop session. © Cambodia’s Ministry of Health

The JEE is integral to monitoring and evaluating the IHR core capacities. With the IHR being updated by Member States this year for the first time since 2005, Cambodia is the second country in the Western Pacific Region to conduct a second JEE. This marked a significant milestone for the country as well as in the region’s journey towards improving its ability to detect and respond to health threats.

With technical support from WHO and funding from USAID, the Ministry of Health’s Communicable Disease Control Department led the second JEE process to examine 19 technical areas by collaborating with various ministries, agencies and partners.

“Health threats are a reality we cannot ignore, but we can take control of our future through our preparedness and response planning and actions. Cambodia remains resolute in reinforcing its health security through initiatives like the Joint External Evaluation. Only by investing in preparedness and response today can we build a healthier tomorrow for all Cambodians,” said H.E. Dr Ly Sovann, Director of the Communicable Disease Control Department of Cambodia’s Ministry of Health.

With the second JEE using the updated tool informed by lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia were able to better identify more growth opportunities for improving areas such as financing, human resources, risk communications and community engagement.

The need to proactively invest in health security before the next pandemic or global health threat cannot be overstated.

“We applaud Cambodia’s strong commitment to transparent self-assessment, and to advancing its health security capacity. Thanks to our successful and ongoing collaboration, Cambodia is one of the 50 partner countries identified in the Global Health Security Strategy launched in April 2024 by the White House. Investing in health security ensures a safer and healthier future for Cambodians and for the global community,” said Mr Christopher Kelly, USAID Acting Mission Director.

“Over the past decade, Cambodia has made tremendous progress in strengthening its capacity to manage health security threats as mandated by the International Health Regulations. To build on this progress, having skilled and competent health personnel will be critical. We encourage prioritization of a coherent package of human resource policies, strategies and plans and will continue to work with the Royal Government of Cambodia to strengthen health security for a safer future for us all,” said Dr Marianna Trias, WHO Representative to Cambodia.

The findings of the JEE, along with the recently finalized Asia Pacific Health Security Action Framework, will inform the identification and revision of priority activities in the upcoming iteration of the National Action Plan for Health Security, scheduled for development in late 2024. However, building a more resilient health security system for all, calls for collaboration beyond the health sector. By embracing these evaluations and initiating focused interventions through whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches, Cambodia can pave the way towards enhanced public health threat preparedness and response capabilities.

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