Oxfam is developing a public health program that will allow us to use scientific data to design better ways of responding to emergencies. We will be carrying this initiative into our regional offices and working with local partner organizations. We will also be building new relationships with academic institutions both in Boston and abroad.
Standard practices for emergency response in water, sanitation, and hygiene education have changed little in recent decades and rarely employ epidemiological data in the design—or evaluation—of those emergency services. Through this new initiative, we are now able to build programs based on hard facts and that more accurately target people's needs. One good example is the drought early warning surveillance system we launched in Ethiopia. Using data gathered at the household level and mapped on a visual analog scale, which is similar to the pain scale you see in the doctor's office, we are able to spot public health trends that could signal trouble ahead. That early warning allows us to work with communities on programs to prevent droughts from causing serious harm to families.
What Oxfam is doing
Oxfam's new public health initiative is helping us develop emergency programs that can be both more cost-effective and more directly targeted to the needs of people. For example, as the result of a public health assessment we conducted in Mozambique, we learned that when some families run out of soap, they use ash to wash their hands. Our field team took that information and developed a training module on how to use ash—which is free and available in every household—so that other communities could learn about that good practice.
Other examples of our public health work have included the following:
- Conducting an emergency assessment during an outbreak of acute watery diarrhea in Ethiopia
- Assessing water in Peru after an earthquake
- Assessing sanitation following the flooding of the Zambezi River in Mozambique
- Responding to an outbreak of cholera in Guinea Bissau
- Addressing water, sanitation, and women's health needs in Darfur, Sudan