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China: building capacity to respond to emergency needs

29-11-2010 Interview

As the importance of responding to disasters grows in China, emergency assistance has drawn increasing attention in this populous nation. In October a two-week training course on Health Emergencies in Large Populations (HELP) was held in Beijing. It was the second time the course was conducted in the country.

Two course organizers share their thoughts on this initiative to build the capacity of emergency response specialists around China.

How big is the demand for this kind of course in China currently? How do you view its significance?

Professor Zhifeng Wang, deputy director, Peking University School of Public Health: We have received a very clear message from different organizations. China has great demand for emergency training because we do not have very solid experience in this field. Basically, emergency training wasn't considered as important until after the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), so it is understandable that the demand is still huge.

China is playing an increasing role in international relief operations, and our rescue personnel abroad need to work in accordance with international practice. Since the situation in China is quite different from that in other countries, we need to standardize our practices.

The HELP course is really quite good in the way it was set up and as evidenced by the overall demand for it.

Yves Etienne, ICRC HELP Coordinator: China's vast territory and population means that it faces many challenges. It is an ideal place to hold a training course like this. China may encounter all kinds of disasters, and therefore, it is crucial to help people prepare for them. In addition, the participation of the Chinese Red Cross Society in the HELP course is very beneficial.

What are the achievements of the two HELP courses in China?

Zhifeng Wang: The result of the training has been very good. In terms of student participation, this year was quite different from last year. Last year's participants were mostly rescue team leaders, while this year's participants come from various fields and sectors. The participants' concept and understanding of the international outlook and way of doing things has clearly been changing in recent years. At the beginning of the training, Wang Ping, head of the relief department of the Chinese Red Cross Society, gave a very good introduction, noting that with China’s increasing involvement in international relief work in recent years, everyone is getting more familiar with the country. For China, connecting with people internationally comes more easily now.

Yves Etienne: Our cooperation with the School of Public Health at Peking University has also been strengthened. We are getting to know each other, and hopefully in the near future, we will be able to teach the entire course together.

How have the participants responded?

Yves Etienne: The students’ reactions are excellent. I know in China, it is not very common to use group discussions. But participants were able to master this in a short time. I remember the first time we held the course in Beijing, the conference centre staff did not understand why I requested round tables for discussions. They told me, ''These round tables are for dining, not for teaching!'' I replied, ''Just treat it as if we will be dining here, so prepare some round tables for us!''

What is the future of the course in China?

Yves Etienne: Since our partnership is growing, we will continue to hold the course in China. Maybe we will try to have it in a different city. The next step is to make the course a regular part of ICRC practices in China. For the ICRC, the teaching process is also a learning process. The more it teaches, the more it learns. When you share with others, you receive at the same time. This is also the reason why I like this course. I have learned many things from teaching the course.

Zhifeng Wang: I hope the Chinese counterparts will be even more involved next year, with Chinese professors taking up a larger percentage of the teaching. If the funding is sufficient, we can do some field exercises outside the classroom, thereby helping integrate teaching and practical exercises.


Photos

 

Beijing, China. HELP course coordinators, Yves Étienne of the ICRC and Wang Zhifeng of Peking University.
© ICRC / X. Hu

 

Beijing, China. HELP course participants were drawn from different parts of the country.
© ICRC / C. Lee

 

Beijing, China. The ICRC's Alain Mourey facilitated sessions on nutrition-related needs and response in times of crisis and emergency.
© ICRC / C. Lee