Making hospitals safe from disasters

Today, the Cayman Islands joins with the World Health Organisation as countries around the world to observe International Day for Disaster Reduction.

The World Disaster Reduction Campaign for 2008/09 focuses on making hospitals safe from disasters.

The importance of hospitals and all types of health facilities extends beyond the direct life-saving role they play. They are also powerful symbols of social progress and a prerequisite for social stability and economic development. Those who are injured need urgent medical attention, but those who escape injury have not escaped the long-term need for medical care and public health after the disaster has passed.

Hospitals and health facilities need to remain functional during disasters. The human cost of a possible hospital failure is made very clear in the aftermath of disasters, when the immediate focus is on fatalities, search and rescue, and the need to tend to the injured. If hospitals are unable to fulfil their emergency function at the time when most needed, critical care would be compromised and lives lost needlessly.

Damage to health systems affects whole nations across every part of society. Being aware of their importance we have taken measures to ensure the resilience of the healthcare system in the Cayman Islands.

Through the Health Practice Commission, which has responsibility for the inspection and certification of healthcare facilities, we promoted standards to ensure that our hospitals and healthcare system are able to respond in any disaster or crisis scenario, whether natural or manmade.

Through the Medical Relief Committee, collaboration has been established between the two main hospitals and all private sector partners, in developing a comprehensive action plan. The public and private sectors coordinate resources, personnel and efforts to ensure a coordinated national medical response to needs that arise in the event of a natural disaster.

Steps have also been taken to enhance the capabilities of the Cayman Islands Hospital, being the major healthcare facility on the island. Recently a mobile Disaster Response Unit was purchased to increase the capability of the medical team to set up a mobile medical facility at the scene of any disaster and render vitally necessary medical care onsite, reducing the need to transfer to the hospital, thereby potentially saving valuable time and precious lives.

Additionally, the hospital this year installed flood barriers to protect the main generator to ensure continuity of electrical supply and medical care in the event of a loss of power supply from CUC, as occurred during hurricane Ivan.

Everyone will remember that in spite of the significant toll exacted by Hurricane Ivan on our infrastructure, the two main hospitals and for the most part many of our private sector healthcare facilities withstood the worst of the devastating effects. This provides evidence of the value of initiatives taken to strengthen and protect our facilities for response in any disaster.

As Minister of Health, I assure you that we are doing our part to make our hospitals safe from disasters and commend all those who work to make them so.

Anthony Eden, minister for Health and Human Services