Last April 7 was World Health Day, a special day around the world when global health is placed in the limelight. World Health Day is sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and partner organizations
This year’s theme is “Save lives. Make hospitals safe in emergencies.” According the WHO
World Health Day 2009 focuses on the resilience and safety of health facilities and the health workers who treat those affected by emergencies. Events around the world will highlight successes, advocate for safe facility design and construction, and build momentum for widespread emergency preparedness.
The year 2008 had one of the highest mortality rates due to natural disasters. According to WHO, 321 natural catastrophes in 2008 killed 235,816 people the world over. The cyclone is Burma alone accounted for about 59% of mortalities while the earthquake in the Chinese province of Sichuan alone accounted for about 37%. This is four times higher than the average of the previous 7 years. The economic impact of the catastrophes was also high – around US$181 billion.
In the light of last year’s high mortality and the recent world events – natural disasters in Australia (bush fires), Indonesia (floods) and Italy (earthquake), casualties due to violent conflicts in India, Israel, and Afghanistan, there is a great need to re-examine how hospitals and other health facilities are prepared for emergencies. Only about 11% of the world population exposed to natural disasters are in developed countries. Yet, 53% of deaths occur in these areas because of the inability of health care facilities to respond to the situation. In addition, many facilities in disaster areas also suffer from structural and infrasctructural damage that can render them non-functional.
The 2003 Algerian earthquake rendered 50% of health facilities in the affected region non-functional due to damage. In Pakistan’s most-affected areas during the 2005 earthquake, 49% of health facilities were completely destroyed, from sophisticated hospitals to rural clinics and drug dispensaries. The December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami affected national and local health systems that provided health services for millions of people. In Indonesia’s northern Aceh province 61% of health facilities were damaged.
This is the reason why WHO and its partners have devoted this year’s World Health Day to strengthening health facilities and making hospitals safe and ready to respond to disasters. Here are some WHO recommendations to governments of countries all over the world to achieve this goal:
- Champion the need to make health facilities safe and functional in emergencies for health, social and economic reasons
- Integrate “Safe Hospitals” programmes and health-risk reduction into national platforms for disaster-risk reduction
- Develop national multisectoral programmes and policies to make health facilities safe in emergencies. Countries that have established a “Safe Hospitals” programme will have taken an important step towards protecting their health facilities and providing health care when most needed
- Monitor and report on implementation of the “Safe Hospitals” programme to ensure success
- Invest only in health facility projects that ensure safe location, design, construction, provision of care and emergency preparedness
- Integrate health facility safety and emergency preparedness into procedures for the licensing and accreditation of health facilities
- Draft, pass and enforce legislation that protects hospitals – including hospital-specific building codes
- Carry out safety assessments of existing health facilities and establish a schedule for retrofitting the most critical and vulnerable ones
- Support measures to keep health staff safe and secure during emergencies
- Undertake field missions during emergencies to gather information and learn lessons.