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workshop participants
HELP workshop participants from UH and CFE-DM

Public health and disaster response professionals and students from Hawaiʻi and around the globe gathered at the 26th annual Health Emergencies in Large Populations (HELP) workshop held in Honolulu in June to discuss major public health issues and decision-making skills to effectively respond to the needs of populations in crisis.

The two-week workshop was facilitated by the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM) in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS) in the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health.

This year’s class included 31 individuals from 14 nations including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, USA, and Vietnam, the Ministries of Defense, Ministries of Health, National Disaster Management Organizations, Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and non-governmental organizations.

“This is a flagship collaboration that the Office of Public Health Studies has had with two incredible national and internal partners for over two decades. It is an honor to be part of this joint effort and for our students to be able to participate and network with global experts from around the world who provide humanitarian relief during disasters, armed conflicts and other complex crises,” said Tetine Sentell, interim dean at the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health.

Civilian and military collaboration

Participants engaged in presentations by subject-matter experts, and scenario-driven sessions where learning was enriched through sharing ideas and experiences. The workshop is unique in that its composition includes participants from both civilian and military organizations, which makes the workshop a superior educational experience, and a networking opportunity among the people that may meet again in the field during a future humanitarian emergency.

workshop participants in a meeting discussion
Elisabeth Kang (standing) collaborates with group in preparation for an exercise presentation.

Participating subject-matter experts with decades of experience in public health emergencies, conflict settings and natural disasters came from the ICRC, World Health Organization, Navy Environmental Preventive Medicine Unit-Six, Special Operation Command Pacific, Defense Institute of Medical Operations, U.S. Pacific Fleet, OPHS faculty, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Hawaiʻi Data Collective.

“The CFE-DM organized HELP Workshop is truly a unique training opportunity to enable the interoperability between public health and humanitarian assistance and disaster response professionals in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Stephanie Liu, a 2016 OPHS alumna who also served as program coordinator with CFE-DM’s Public Health Program. “It develops mutual understanding and enables a multisectoral approach in response to future health emergencies in large populations.”

Elisabeth Kang, a current graduate student of the master of public health program (MPH) enjoyed the experience.

“Learning the different aspects of how I may be able to specialize my MPH was eye opening. The everyday workshop forum style made it easy to make new friends from different countries interested in also increasing their skills in emergency disaster preparation,” Kang said. “Listening to their work experiences was an added value.”

Since 1996, the collaborative workshop has graduated nearly 800 HELP program alumni, producing global networks that they can rely on in times of crisis and valuable assets in building individual careers in disaster management across the globe.

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