Building expertise for epidemic preparedness

A training workshop in Würzburg, 5-6 October 2015

Mutual controlling of protective clothing

The West African Ebola crisis revealed the inadequacy of epidemic response capacities. BMZ has started an initiative to help prevent similar disease outbreaks in the future from spreading across borders. A number of GIZ experts were recently trained as a first step to establish a multidisciplinary expert team for worldwide deployment.

A painful lesson and a joint response

The recent Ebola crisis was a painful reminder of the interdependency between health systems and epidemics: If a country’s health system is weak, so are its epidemic preparedness and disease control mechanisms. If and where outbreaks of infectious diseases are not detected, isolated and contained in time, they can quickly turn into fast-spreading epidemics and cost many lives that could have been saved had the necessary surveillance and response structures and processes been in place.

To help its partner countries be better prepared for future disease outbreaks, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) commissioned the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to set up a team of experts who can help assess and strengthen countries’ epidemic preparedness and be deployed to partner countries in case of need. This team will complement the German bilateral development cooperation programmes in African and Asian partner countries.

 The expert team is a contribution  to the six-point plan (Lessons Learnt Initiative) of Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and to BMZ’s  special programme Health in Africa, which were both launched in reaction to the Ebola crisis and aim at strengthening health systems and improving the response to international health emergencies.

From 5 to 6 October 2015 the first ‘Early Response and Pre-Deployment Training’ for 15 health experts from German-supported programmes worldwide took place in Würzburg, Germany. The participants came from a variety of health programmes, e.g. Bangladesh, Cameroon or Germany. On behalf of BMZ and with support of the Medical Mission Institute and Clinic in Würzburg, the GIZ Sector Initiative ‘Health System Strengthening’ organised this first training as part of the effort to establish teams of experts. The Medical Mission Institute is a leading centre for infection control and for the practicalities of pre-deployment trainings. During the Ebola crisis the Institute played a crucial role in preparing volunteers in treating Ebola patients and personal safety.

Putting on personal protective equipment

For the ‘Early Response and Pre-Deployment Training’ beginning of October 2015, the Institute engaged trainers from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which is Germany’s central institution in the field of biomedicine and for safeguarding public health, and from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), as the key medical humanitarian organization in the fight against Ebola. The Regional Fire Brigade Training Centre Würzburg offered the perfect location for the hands-on exercises on personal protective equipment (PPE).

Two days of intensive learning and knowledge sharing

At the launch of the training Hans-Peter Baur of BMZ stressed that ‘GIZ plays a key role in setting up an expert team for rapid deployment in order to support partner countries in the event of an arising health emergency’.

In the course of the training, the participants had the chance to learn and share best practice in epidemic preparedness and disease control as well as to build up their own capacities in the detection of, and rapid response to, potential epidemic outbreaks and other comprehensive health hazards. Two intensive days laid the foundations for basic skills and competencies to support partner countries’ efforts in epidemic preparedness and early response. The participants made a first step to qualify themselves for a worldwide deployment as part of the expert teams.

Further trainings for these and other participants will be organised in the coming months. But only the next case of emergency will show whether these and other international teams can make a difference.

by Natalia Melkoserov, GIZ Initiative Health Systems Strengthening

October 2015

In the sections below you can find information on the different parts and outcomes of the training (as well as contacts and links to useful resources).

Ready, set, go: the official launch of the training

The first training day started with the official launch of this training by Hans-Peter Baur, BMZ’s Head of Directorate for Peace, Democracy, Human Rights and Social Development. He introduced the broader political and strategic context to the participants – beyond the ongoing Ebola epidemic which he stated was a wake-up call. Baur highlighted the central role of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR) for fighting cross-border threats to health.

According to Baur, ‘the BMZ has a central role to play in implementing the lessons learnt initiative as proposed by our Chancellor Merkel. The BMZ’s special programme for ‘Health in Africa’ and the future multidisciplinary team of experts - often referred to as ‘white helmets’ – is an important contribution to the initiative and to the G7 commitments made in Elmau earlier this year.’

Dr Inge Baumgarten, GIZ, and Prof Dr August Stich, MMI

Dr Inge Baumgarten, GIZ’s Head of Section for Health, Education and Social Protection’, gave further details of the profile, tasks and responsibilities of such a team. The training is one of the lessons learnt of the Ebola crisis in Western Africa: “We need more capacity development of health experts for epidemic preparedness and response and for addressing health system issues in weak and challenging contexts. Outbreaks are not only a challenge for Western Africa but for public health systems worldwide.’

GIZ is also preparing a blended learning course on epidemic and pandemic preparedness in sub-Sahara Africa to strengthen capacities of partner organization in the health sector. The course will be offered in different African countries in 2016 in addition to further trainings in Würzburg. (See here for more information on the course.)

Finally, Prof Dr August Stich, Head of the Department of Tropical Medicine at the Medical Mission Clinic Würzburg, gave a brief outline of the history of infectious diseases and of the Ebola-response in the last year. He showed the participants the structures of the German preparedness network (STAKOB) and options for assistance for backstopping for international interventions.

 ‘From a global perspective we have to consider the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa not only as a crisis but as a golden opportunity to identify shortcomings in the current health systems and to improve capacities in the field of infection control to overcome them. Global health challenges require global solutions!’

A demanding training schedule

In the high risk zone

The first training day gave the participants a comprehensive overview of:

  • eye-opener: effective hand-washing as the single most important measure for infection prevention
  • broader political and strategic context of global health and epidemic preparedness
  • structures of the national preparedness network
  • the main pillars of preparedness: lessons learned from the response to the Ebola epidemic
  • health hazard assessment and appropriate outbreak response
  • medical aspects on and management and control interventions for highly contagious diseases with potential of becoming epidemic
  • planning and establishing a triage unit
  • essential elements of personal protective equipment and appropriate use
  • relevant internet resources for outbreak newsfeeds, surveillance tools, epidemiological information and capacity building

Working on deployment scenarios

The second training day provided theoretical and practical input on:

  • use and practice of personal protective equipment and structure of a treatment unit
  • examples of WHO ‘priority’ diseases which require reporting and emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases
  • case studies of deployment scenarios in different outbreak situations
  • first-hand experience in establishing network of reference laboratories for highly contagious diseases

Feedback and main takeaways

Participants’ feedback to the workshop organizers was very positive: they appreciated the opportunity to exchange experiences with their peers, to receive first-hand experience from the field, e.g. from treatment units and mobile labs, and a good balance of theoretical inputs and practical exercises.

Most of the participants felt that the training provided a good foundation although further exercise and training is needed regarding the specific role of the future BMZ/GIZ expert team and their deployment missions.

Dr Silvia Huber

The training was a first step towards building capacities needed to support partner countries’ efforts in epidemic preparedness, risk assessment, the early detection of infections with epidemic potential and initial responses to health hazards. In the next moths GIZ’s health experts will work intensively on outbreak scenarios and mission management issues and further experts will be trained.

To conclude with the voices of two of the participants:

‘The workshop on how to set up effective disease control measures within a health facility in case of an outbreak was extremely helpful, as well as the case studies on different outbreak scenarios.’ (Dr Silvia Huber, medical doctor and public health expert at GIZ)

 ‘I really liked the mix of theoretical and practical input! In particular, the use of personal protective equipment was a very interesting exercise – putting it on and wearing it for a few minutes only already gives you an idea of how difficult working in certain scenarios can be. All in all, the training was a very good start. Now, I look forward to deepening my knowledge in the area of pandemic preparedness and response to health emergencies.’
(Larissa Duddeck, expert for health system strengthening at GIZ)

Contact and further resources

Do you want to know more about the ‘Early Response and Pre-Deployment Training’ or are you interested in the BMZ/GIZ expert team? Please contact or

Other resources

  • Medbox: Online library for healthcare in humanitarian action
  • RapidResponseBox:  Online library for pandemic preparedness and response
  • LearnBox: Training resources and collection of relevant internet websites

Read more about the training in the German media (in German)

BMZ glossary

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