WHO Collaborating Centre

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the Euro-Mediterranean Council for Burns and Fire Disasters a WHO Collaborating Centre, with the full title of WHO Collaborating Centre for Prevention and Treatment of Burns and Fire Disasters.
WHO is the supreme intergovernmental health authority on all health matters, working within the United Nations system for the promotion of health and prevention of disease under the global programme of "Health For All". Its membership consists of all the States of the world and, as an intergovernmental body, it operates through the Ministries of Health of the countries, its Member States.
To expand and strengthen its scientific and technical action, however, WHO establishes also official and working relations with non-governmental organizations and scientific institutions. Indeed as early as 1949, the Second World Health Assembly laid down the policy that WHO should not consider "the establishment, under its own auspices, of international research institutions" but that "research in the field of health is best advanced by assisting, co-ordinating and making use of the activities of existing institutions" outside the Organization. A large, worldwide network of WHO Collaborating Centres has thus evolved over the years and is being constantly but very selectively updated according to the needs of the Organization's evolving and expanding programme - hence the designation of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Prevention and Treatment of Burns and Fire Disasters, the first such Centre in this field of science.
Currently, among the several hundred WHO Collaborating Centres in almost all the fields of health, there are eleven Collaborating Centres in the various specialties of emergency humanitarian action.

These are (see map):

  • on Humanitarian Civil-Military Cooperation, Honolulu, USA
  • on Health-related Issues Among Displaced Persons, Geneva, Switzerland
  • on Disaster Preparedness, Management and Nursing, Rome, Italy
  • on Disaster Preparedness, Calcutta, India
  • on Disaster Medicine, San Marino, San Marino
  • on Emergency and Disaster Medicine Management, Moscow, Russia
  • on Prevention and Treatment of Burns and Fire Disasters, Palermo, Italy
  • on Emergency Preparedness and Humanitarian Action, Atlanta, USA
  • on Preparedness for Emergency Care, Amiens, France
  • on Disaster Preparedness, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief, Medellin, Colombia

Definition and functions

A WHO Collaborating Centre is an institution designated by the Director-General of WHO to form part of an international collaborative network carrying out activities in support of the Organization's programmes at all levels. Only institutions showing a proven and growing capacity to fulfil a function or functions related to WHO's mission, and only institutions of high scientific and technical standing that have attained international recognition, can qualify for this prestigious and highly scientific designation.

Fig. 1 - WHO map

The functions of WHO Collaborating centres, severally or collectively, include, inter alia, the following:

  1. collection, collation and dissemination of information
  2. standardization of terminology and nomenclature of technology, of diagnosis, therapeutic and prophylactic substances, and of methods and procedures
  3. development and application of appropriate techniques and technology
  4. provision of reference substances and other services
  5. conducting research and participation in collaborative research under the Organization's leadership, including the planning, operation, monitoring and evaluation of research, as well as promotion and application of the results of research
  6. training, including research training, and public education
  7. the coordination of activities carried out by several institutions on a given subject, in MBC's case on the subject of burns, thermal injury and fire disasters
  8. promotion of prevention of diseases and injury in the field of the Centre's competence

Criteria for designation

The criteria applied in the selection of institutions for designation as a WHO Collaborating Centre are as follows:

  1. the scientific and technical standing of the institution concerned at the national and international levels
  2. the place the institution occupies in the country's health, scientific or educational structures
  3. the quality of its scientific and technical leadership, and the number and qualifications of its staff
  4. the institution's prospective stability in terms of personnel, activity and funding
  5. the working relationship which the institution has developed with other institutions in the country, as well as at the intercountry, regional and global levels
  6. the institution's ability, capacity and readiness to contribute to WHO programme activities, whether in support of country programmes or by participating in international cooperative activities

The selection process involves a very extensive and in-depth scrutiny of the prospective Centre, with serious recommendations at the country, regional and international levels being assured and the Ministry of Health's agreement being obtained by the Director-General. The designation is for an initial period of four years, during which time solid activity must be demonstrated and the results monitored before extension is granted.

This Centre

The WHO Collaborating Centre is located at the headquarters of the Euro-Mediterranean Council for Burns and Fire Disasters (MBC), at the Department of Plastic Surgery and Burn Centre, Civic Hospital, Palermo, Italy (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 - The seat of the WHO Collaborating Centre.

The MBC is a scientific organization that brings together all the medical, surgical, nursing, public health and fire-fighting professions concerned with thermal injury and fire safety at all levels and in all forms. It encourages high standards of burn care and collaborates internationally to strengthen prevention, treatment and rehabilitation in burns and fires. It has been recognized as the pioneering organisation that emphasized the synergism between burns as a clinical, individual problem, and fires as a societal, disaster management problem, resulting in the improved care of fire victims and the prevention of burn injuries. Over several years already the MBC has been collaborating with the World Health Organization in major fire emergencies and humanitarian action towards disaster victims. The terms of reference of its action programme as a WHO Collaborating Centre include the following:

  1. to prepare, test and implement means and methodologies of health education for the prevention of burns and reduction of fire disasters
  2. to train burn specialists and collaborate with firefighting authorities for the improvement of burns therapy and of humanitarian response in fire disaster situations
  3. to collaborate with industry for the prevention and mitigation of industrial fires, explosions, toxic accidents, atomic incidents and environmental degradation, for the protection of health and prevention of industrial disasters
  4. to collaborate with WHO and its Regional Offices in carrying out emergency humanitarian missions and to manage health problems in fire disasters
  5. to organize and implement research in essential surgery and appropriate technology for newly independent states, poorly industrialized areas and developing countries
  6. to act as Faculty and "specialized arm" to WHO-related institutions and other Collaborating Centres in allied fields and educational endeavours
  7. to prepare guidelines, manuals and training tools for field use, for technical self-improvement, for rehabilitation of the severely burned and for teaching at all levels
  8. to prepare, in collaboration with affiliates and other institutions, computerized teaching hypertext material and telemedical technology for distant learning and for distant management of disasters
  9. to be attentive to developments and evolving needs and to introduce changes and advances accordingly, in unison with the major programmes of WHO

The Centre has ongoing activities in all the above-mentioned fields and considers it a privilege to have been chosen to serve burn victims, society, the surgical profession and the World Health Organization in this worthwhile manner (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 - G. Bertollim, M.D., Director of ECEH, Rome (upper centre), representing of WHO, and S.W.A. Gunn, M.D., President of MBC (lower centre), officially signing in Palermo the designation of the WHO Collaborating Centre.

Besides the honourable professional responsibilities that the Centre carries out with humility and competence, the designation's prerogatives include the right to bear the emblem and the flag of WHO, honours that the Euro-Mediterranean Council for Burns and Fire Disasters will carry with pride, dignity and effectiveness.

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