WHO ask countries to have hospitals that are safe from disasters

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New Delhi, Oct 10 (UNI) The World Health Organisation has asked South East Asian countries to ensure all hospitals and health facilities are disaster-resilient as damage or non-functioning after disasters adds to the suffering and increases the risk of death or disability among the affected people.

WHO has given the advice as the South-East Asia Region has faced some of the world's worst natural disasters including floods, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis and other emergencies. The death toll from disasters in the Region was over 500 000 during 1996-2005, which was 58 per cent of global deaths due to disasters.

Health facilities are lifelines in the aftermath of any natural disaster when large numbers of people need urgent medical care, the WHO pointed out on the International Day for Disaster Reduction on October 8.

In the long run, disruption of essential health services affects a country's development potential. Yet, according to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), the cost difference between building a safe hospital and a vulnerable one can be negligible, it said.

''Keeping a health facility safe from disasters is one sure way of reducing risks and saving lives, and ensuring that hospitals are resistant to disasters is not difficult,'' said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia.

She said the technology already exists. Incorporating disaster-protection elements into the design adds only 4 per cent to the cost of the building. Retrofitting costs vary but can sometimes be as low as 1 per cent for nonstructural elements. The cost of re-building damaged hospitals and health facilities far exceeds the cost of investing in disaster-resilient ones.

Disasters that damage health systems affect a country's ability to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. Gains in development and access to health-care services are seriously compromised when disasters occur.

For example in Gujarat, it cost more than 50 million dollars to rebuild 1885 health facilities that were destroyed or damaged by the 2001 earthquake. The indirect costs, such as decline in health of the population due to inadequate health services, are incalculable.

In Aceh, Indonesia, the tsunami of 2004 destroyed 61 per cent of its health facilities, killing 7 per cent of its health workers and 30 per cent of its midwives. It led to a disruption in Aceh's primary care, maternal health and neonatal care services.

UNI AJ SY NS1316

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