South-East Asian nations need to make hospitals disaster-proof: WHO


New Delhi : The 11 South-East Asian countries, including India, are highly vulnerable to disasters and thus need to make their hospitals more resilient to withstanding emergencies like earthquakes, floods, cyclones or terror strikes so that patient care is not hampered, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Monday said.

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On the occasion of World Health Day, the world medical body launched its focused theme for the year – “Save Lives, Make Hospitals Safe in Emergencies”.

“The 11 member countries of the south-east Asia region are highly vulnerable to disasters. Regional health facilities have sustained considerable damage in the wake of these events. Although, progress has been achieved in several countries, much remains to be done,” Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the deputy regional director of the South-East Asia region of the WHO told reporters here.

Apart from India, the other countries in the region are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

Singh said during the period during 1996-2005, the countries of these region saw deaths of 536,176 people due to natural disasters, which was 58 percent of the total deaths from disasters globally.

“This region has one fourth of the world’s population, one third of the global disease burden and one fourth of the world’s poor,” she added.

Keeping these points in mind, she said it should be seen that health facilities are strong and do not collapse during earthquake or cyclones. “There are some cases where the building remains standing, but is non-functional because of water and power connections have been snapped. So the facility could not provide any help to the injured,” she added.

The 2004 Tsunami wreaked havoc in the region, with the greatest impact felt on health facilities in Indonesia, Maldives and India, where seven district hospitals, 13 primary health centres and 80 sub-centres were damaged, Singh said.

“After the Gujarat earthquake of 2001, the Indian government ensured that all health facilities were rebuilt to withstand future earthquakes,” she added.

She said disasters create an intensive demand for health services. “In addition to treating disaster victims, hospitals must quickly resume treatment of everyday emergencies and routine care. Destruction or loss of functionality of a hospital poses a major economic burden to a country,” Singh said.

She said a hospital lost in earthquake or floods means that the injured are unable to receive medical help, while the government is burdened with re-building the structure and restoring the facilities, adding hospital buildings can be designed to be disaster resilient and the equipment secured so it does not injure patients.

Singh stressed on the need to train doctors, nurses and other staff so that they are ready to provide medical aid during disasters.

She said that the WHO has come out with 12 benchmarks for emergency preparedness for the region.

These include — legal framework and functioning coordination mechanism, regularly updated disaster preparedness and emergency management plan for health sector, community plan for response and preparedness, health facilities built or modified to withstand expected risks and early warning and surveillance systems.