Last week, Dr. Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency specialist in the WHO Regional Office for Europe and head of the WHO mission for COVID-19 in Turkmenistan, answered questions from the Turkmen media regarding the WHO mission visit to Turkmenistan. The Arzuw NEWS Editorial Board received the original text of this interview from the WHO Office in Ashgabat today:
The WHO COVID-19 mission is coming to Turkmenistan next week. What is the purpose of this mission and how long will the WHO experts be in Turkmenistan?
A WHO mission is scheduled to arrive in Turkmenistan on July 6 to work with national and local authorities on various aspects of preparedness and response to COVID-19. Our work will focus on areas such as coordination and control systems, epidemiology and surveillance, laboratory services, case management, infection prevention and infection control, and public risk education.
We plan to spend about 10 days in the country. Our agenda includes a series of meetings with high-level officials and public health experts, to work together to assess risks and develop the response systems needed to control COVID-19. We plan to visit medical facilities, public health centers, laboratories, and other facilities at the national, regional, and city levels, as well as points of entry.
The mission is part of the specialized support that WHO provides to the countries of the European Region. In recent months, WHO has sent some 70 missions to various countries in the region to assist with the COVID-19 outbreaks on the ground, and we very much welcome this opportunity to work closely with Turkmenistan in these unprecedented times.
The WHO mission has been postponed several times. Can you explain why?
Transportation restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic made it much more difficult to get around Europe. All this time we were in direct communication with the Government of Turkmenistan in search of transportation options to enable mission members to reach the country, and we were able to do so with the support of the Turkmen side.
How do you assess WHO's relations with the Government of Turkmenistan? How do you work with the Ministry of Health on COVID-19?
WHO has a long-standing and fruitful relationship with the Government of Turkmenistan and the Ministry of Health. The WHO Country Office in Turkmenistan was established in 1995 to support the country in developing health policies, strengthening the health system and public health programs of Turkmenistan. Our mission is part of the plans in collaboration with the Government of Turkmenistan and will focus on the preparation in case of emergence and spread of COVID-19. In addition, together with the Ministry of Health and with the support of partners and donors, we are working on several projects in this area, such as training courses for health workers, development of informational materials, and others.
Turkmenistan did not report any cases of COVID-19. The country is keeping the virus under control, and the Turkmen authorities' approach to this is working well. As a WHO expert, what is your opinion of the situation in the country?
Turkmenistan established a national multisectoral task force on COVID-19; approved a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan; and developed guidelines for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. The reorganization of facilities and staff at all levels of the health care system is a critical step taken by the Government: this includes retooling facilities and training health care workers. We look forward to learning more about the work done during our visit.
We stand ready to support Turkmenistan in identifying the most effective measures for the nonproliferation of COVID-19. We hope that our joint work with national and local authorities will further contribute to protecting the country's population from the virus.
The government of Turkmenistan, together with the UN Permanent Representative, developed a National Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Plan. WHO was part of this process. Can you tell us about this document, does it meet WHO standards?
Indeed, WHO took the lead in helping the country develop the COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan. It was developed in accordance with WHO standards. The goal of the plan is to prevent the entry of the infection into the country and, if it does, to halt further transmission and mitigate the social and economic consequences of the outbreak. During the preparation phase, the Plan should help identify areas and measures needed to strengthen national capacity, and help the Government, UN agencies and other international partners identify areas in need of additional resources and funding. Under the Plan, WHO will also support Turkmenistan in combating the long-term effects of the pandemic.
Recall that on June 19, at a planned briefing of the Foreign Ministry on the topic: "Overview of the current situation in combating the pandemic coronavirus infection," Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan R. Meredov reported about a planned visit of a WHO mission to Turkmenistan in early July. The WHO Ashgabat office confirmed to Arzuw NEWS that a WHO mission led by Dr. Catherine Smallwood has now departed for Turkmenistan. The WHO Regional Office for Europe also informed Arzuw NEWS about the size of the team, which includes five international public health experts and epidemiologists.
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