Should cities hosting mass gatherings invest in public health surveillance and planning? Reflections from a decade of mass gatherings in Sydney, Australia

Thackway, Sarah; Churches, Timothy; Fizzell, Jan; Muscatello, David; Armstrong, Paul
January 2009
BMC Public Health;2009, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p324
Academic Journal
Background: Mass gatherings have been defined by the World Health Organisation as "events attended by a sufficient number of people to strain the planning and response resources of a community, state or nation". This paper explores the public health response to mass gatherings in Sydney, the factors that influenced the extent of deployment of resources and the utility of planning for mass gatherings as a preparedness exercise for other health emergencies. Discussion: Not all mass gatherings of people require enhanced surveillance and additional response. The main drivers of extensive public health planning for mass gatherings reflect geographical spread, number of international visitors, event duration and political and religious considerations. In these instances, the implementation of a formal risk assessment prior to the event with ongoing daily review is important in identifying public health hazards. Developing and utilising event-specific surveillance to provide early-warning systems that address the specific risks identified through the risk assessment process are essential. The extent to which additional resources are required will vary and depend on the current level of surveillance infrastructure. Planning the public health response is the third step in preparing for mass gatherings. If the existing public health workforce has been regularly trained in emergency response procedures then far less effort and resources will be needed to prepare for each mass gathering event. The use of formal emergency management structures and co-location of surveillance and planning operational teams during events facilitates timely communication and action. Summary: One-off mass gathering events can provide a catalyst for innovation and engagement and result in opportunities for ongoing public health planning, training and surveillance enhancements that outlasted each event.


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