‘India needs to make its hospitals disaster resistant’

April 18th, 2008 - 11:58 am ICT by admin  

By Kavita Bajeli-Datt
New Delhi, April 18 (IANS) With climate change expected to increase the severity and frequency of natural calamities, India - one of the 10 nations most affected by such catastrophes - needs to make its hospitals disaster-resistant so that adequate medical relief can be provided in emergencies, says an international expert. Claude de Ville de Goyet, former director of emergency preparedness and disaster relief coordination in the World Health Organisation (WHO), told IANS: “Global warming is increasing every day, raising the chances of typhoons and floods. In such a situation, we need to have safer hospitals with sufficient human resources to tackle the surge of patients that would be impacted by disaster.”

According to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN-ISDR), 2005 saw an 18 percent increase in natural disasters, affecting an estimated 160 million people, seven million more than in 2004.

In 2005, India featured in the list of 10 countries most affected by natural disasters.

“The doctors are useless if they are not safe in the hospital. They have to be safe to use their tools. India needs to train its doctors to react during natural hazards and take steps to provide emergency medical aid to patients,” Goyet said.

Considered one of the principal architects of the concept of safer hospitals, Goyet is here to attend the WHO regional consultation on keeping health facilities safe from disaster.

He also participated in the Southeast Asia launch of the World Disaster Reduction Campaign Tuesday. The global launch of the drive, jointly initiated by the WHO, the UN-ISDR and the World Bank, was held in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

The WHO, which is spearheading the campaign in Southeast Asia, will promote the concept of disaster- resilient health facilities in its 11 member countries, including India.

The focus is mainly on this region because, according to the World Disasters Report 2006, around 58 percent of the total number of people killed in natural disasters during 1996-2005 were from countries of the Southeast Asia region.

In this decade, Asia had the highest number of natural disasters (1,273) and technological disasters (1,387) - this comprises 44 percent of all disasters that occurred across the world during this time period.

In this region comprising India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, North Korea, Indonesia, the Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste, hundreds of hospitals and health facilities are damaged every year by natural calamities. Millions of people are left without access to health facilities during and after disaster.

“The bigger the country, the longer it takes to take right steps. So far, India’s efforts to make its hospitals safe during disasters have been small and slow.

“A strong political will is needed to take a step in the right direction. As India has witnessed earthquakes and the 2004 tsunami, it is very important for it to have disaster-resistant hospitals,” Goyet said.

It has been recognised globally that apart from emergency relief, countries have to concentrate on risk reduction, he emphasised.

According to him, Nepal has safer and more secure hospitals than India.

Goyet said: “India could learn from Nepal and Latin American countries, which worked to make their hospitals disaster-resistant. The situation has drastically changed in these countries and all this was because of strong political will.

“Disaster plans are not enough. We have to reduce the vulnerability of installations so that they last long. We also need to create awareness among the people so that they demand a hospital that is safe and doctors who are trained to cope with the emergency situation,” he added.

Also, there is a need to train engineers, architects and planners to build such installations. “Even if the old buildings are not able to comply with the criteria, they need to be retrofitted,” Goyet said.

According to him, governments need to realise that rebuilding a ravaged hospital would involve more money as well as wastage of time and resources.

Goyet hoped that the next time he visits India he would see new hospitals capable of withstanding disasters and equipped with trained medical staff.

(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at kavita.d@ians.in)

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