Monday, April 6, 2009

World Health Day 2009: Save Lives. Make Hospitals Safe in Emergencies

Since 1950, World Health Day has been celebrated around the globe on April 7th. Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) chooses a theme, which highlights a key public issue that affects the international community.

This year, the focus is on the resilience and safety of health facilities and the health workers who treat those affected by emergencies. It is the WHO's hope that this annual celebration will promote a greater understanding of the issues at hand, as well as a long term advocacy program that will continue well beyond April 7th, 2009.

Worldwide, the number of disasters and emergencies are constantly increasing. In 2008 alone, 321 natural disasters killed more than 235,816 individuals. With an increasing desire toward urbanization, as well as a continuous population growth, the reliance on hospitals is becoming exponentially greater. In her Statement for World Health Day 2009, Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the WHO explains that, "when an emergency or disaster occurs, most lives are lost or saved in the immediate aftermath of the event. People count on hospitals and health facilities to respond, swiftly and efficiently, as the lifeline for survival and the backbone of support." However, in some cases the hospitals themselves are prone to simultaneous destruction, and as a result, health care workers are often killed or injured at the time when they are most critically needed. In other instances, health care systems that are already fragile are often unable to continue functioning in the event of such a disaster, further amplifying the tragedy of such an occurrence. Moreover, infectious diseases are one of the most prevalent causes of death and illness during a disaster, and if hospitals are unable to provide necessary care and infection prevention during an emergency, the propensity to amplify such an outbreak will increase, further inhibiting the hospital's capacity to provide other emergency services.

This year, the WHO is emphasizing the importance of investing in health infrastructure that will be able to withstand such disasters, and subsequently provide necessary care to those in need. Resilient construction, safe site decisions, and good planning are all crucial components to maintaining a functioning hospital. By anticipating such emergencies or disasters in advance, hospitals will have a greater ability to prepare themselves in the event that such a tragedy should occur, and will be able to provide the maximum potential for care to those affected.

A concern about funding is completely justified, as the WHO have calculated that the construction of a new hospital that can withstand such destruction costs surprisingly little in relation to the lives that can be saved. In many new health facilities, incorporating earthquake and severe weather protection into preliminary designs will add only 4% to the overall costs. Furthermore, reconstruction of existing facilities has minimal costs, and the incorporation of emergency preparedness and risk management into a hospital's operational plans costs almost nothing. World Health Day 2009 encourages both energy efficient and cost effective designs for the safety of new hospitals, and it is the hope of PPD ARO that such measures will quickly be implemented, helping to save countless lives worldwide.

We can all help to support better health care in emergencies, and involvement from within the community is essential in creating safer hospitals and better outcomes for those affected by such emergencies.

Recommendations for governments include:
  • 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
  • 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.
More information: English:

To learn more about what you can do year-round, check out:

Read more about the planning framework for a national policy and programme for making health facilities safe in emergencies:

1 comment:

Gururaj said...

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