NEWS | June 14, 2019

Oceania Representatives Build Public Health Emergency Response Capability

By Theanne Herrmann

CAIRNS, Australia -- Humanitarian public health and disaster response professionals located throughout the Oceania region gathered at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, for the Health and Humanitarian Action in Emergencies (HHAE) course, June 3-14.

HHAE is a two-week course developed by the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and James Cook University’s College of Health of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences to improve the management of public health emergencies during a humanitarian crises.

“The Pacific region is known to be one of the most disaster prone regions of the world,” said Professor Maxine Whittaker, Dean of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences at JCU. “Building capacity and resilience in these countries’ response teams and communities is a critical tool to mitigate the consequences brought by diseases. The frequency and variety of natural disasters in this region leave our Pacific neighbors vulnerable to poor health outcomes, especially when combined with remoteness, climate change and often times weak health systems.”

One of the guest speakers, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Louis Tripoli, command surgeon for the United States Indo-Pacific Command, asked each participant to voice their biggest challenge facing their communities.

"The concerns that were mentioned today drove home to me the importance of maintaining and strengthening our military medical partnerships in the region," said Tripoli. "This course is just another example of how we continue to remain synced with our partners and that our strong relationships with our military medical counterparts are the foundation for training in global health, military medicine, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief."

Each day the students were given lectures from experts representing the following partners: CFE-DM, JCU, RedR Australia, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Pacific Regional Office, International Federation of the Red Cross Fiji, Save the Children Australia, Cairns Regional Council, United States Indo-Pacific Command, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Fiji National University, and the Pacific Community.

“Partnerships are critical to address complex issues such as health and humanitarian disasters,” said Whittaker. “The combined experience in humanitarian response reflected by CFE-DM’s expertise, the world-class practitioner instructors, and JCU’s focus on graduate public health training and capacity building have proven a highly successful partnership.”

Throughout the course, group discussions and practical exercises helped bring realism into the classroom on topics such as civil-military coordination, Climate Change Adaptation in the Pacific, Sexual and Reproductive Health, Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, and Health Care Services in Humanitarian Crisis.

“My favorite part of the course is the practical exercises with the group discussions,” said Eriati Reebo, staff officer to the police commissioner on the island of Kiribati. “I’ve learned a lot such as the Sphere Standards [The Sphere Handbook] during a disaster, sharing of information and coordination during any disaster in need of humanitarian assistance.”

The Sphere Handbook is a standing reference for both new and experienced humanitarians, with input provided by more than 450 organizations in over 65 countries around the world.

“It’s CFE-DM’s hope that participants like Eriati Reebo will take all of the information he learned from HHAE and share it with the people of Kiribati,” said CFE-DM Director Joseph Martin. “Our ultimate goal is to empower as many people as possible with the knowledge to save lives and alleviate human suffering when faced with a natural or man-made disaster. “We are looking forward to reaching more citizens of Oceania by conducting our third HHAE course in partnership with Fiji National University next year in Fiji.”

If you would like more information about the HHAE course, visit our website: