UN launches global campaign to make hospitals safe from disasters

UN launches global campaign to make hospitals safe from disasters

With hundreds of hospitals and heath facilities destroyed or damaged every year by disasters, the United Nations is launching a global campaign to ensure that millions of people are not left without the vital care they need in the midst of an emergency.

Natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods can within minutes wreak havoc on communities, destroying basic infrastructures and services and dealing a cruel blow to local populations. Millions of people are left without emergency care during and after disasters when hospitals and health facilities fail to function.

To protect health facilities from such hazards, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) is launching the “Hospitals Safe from Disasters” campaign tomorrow in Davos, Switzerland, along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

“The price we pay for the failure of hospitals when disasters happen is too high. In comparison, the cost of making hospitals safe is tiny,” says Salvano Briceño, Director of the ISDR secretariat. “The most expensive hospital is the one that fails.”

Recent examples highlight the tremendous impact that disasters can have on local health systems. On 5 August 2007, in just two minutes, the Peruvian city of Pisco lost 97 per cent of its hospital beds to an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. In addition, the October 2005 earthquake that struck Pakistan completely destroyed half of the heath facilities in the affected areas, and the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami wiped out 61 per cent of the health facilities in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

In addition to denying access to primary health care for those affected, damage to facilities and health systems could disrupt essential services such as routine immunization or maternal and child health care for months after a tragedy.

Among the objectives of the new campaign is to reinforce the structural resilience of health facilities, and to ensure that they continue to function after a disaster has struck. It will also train health workers on preparedness plans that will keep health systems operational in the wake of disasters.

“With current knowledge and strong political commitment it is possible to protect health facilities from disasters, even with the limited resources available in developing countries,” says Dr. Ala Alwan, Assistant Director-General for Heath Action in Crises at WHO.

The agency is providing technical support to countries to help them mitigate the effects of disasters on existing and new health facilities, which will help protect the health of the population in areas affected by disaster.

The Hyogo Framework for Action – adopted by 168 countries in Kobe, Japan, in January 2005 – called on Governments to do more to ensure that new hospitals are built to remain functional in the midst of disasters.