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RAPID HEALTH ASSESSMENT PROTOCOLS FOR EMERGENCIES
( By WHO - OMS, 1999 )

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8-Background

The existence of a nutritional emergency should be considered whenever a population has reduced access to food, associated with actual or threatened increases in morbidity and mortality.

In most instances, a food emergency is not an acute event, but one that develops over time. Early signs (“leading indicators”) such as decreased rainfall can appear before access to food is reduced. At a later stage, there are indications of diminished access to food (for example, low food supplies and an increase in prices: “intermediate indicators”). Actual weight loss, mortality, and population migration usually occur at a relatively late stage in a nutritional emergency (“trailing indicators”).

For the rapid assessment to be useful in a response, it must be sensitive to the signs of the famine’s various stages: for example, occurrence of precipitating factors, implementation of coping strategies, destitution, migration, and epidemic mortality and morbidity.

Patterns of work and climate such as exposure to cold also affect food requirements and related mortality, and should also be considered in the assessment.

Information on a potential nutritional emergency may come from a range of sources: a famine early warning system, health or other government officials, and nongovernmental organizations. Therefore, it is essential to carry out a rapid assessment to confirm or refute these initial reports.

The rapid assessment should not take longer than four to seven days. By comparison, a more thorough assessment requires between two and three weeks, because it includes large-scale, population-based surveys. It is most effectively carried out as a team effort, with specialists’ input on food logistics, agriculture, and health.

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