Speech on the occasion of World Health Day 2009
Dr Shin Young-soo
World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific
Dr. Tran Chi Liem, Vice Minister of Health
Ladies and Gentlemen
Each year World Health Day celebrations create awareness of a specific health theme to highlight a priority area of concern for the WHO.
This year focuses on the safety of health facilities and the readiness of health workers to respond in an emergency.
Climate change is increasing both the frequency and ferocity of weather patterns that cause disasters and emergencies.
Viet Nam is not stranger to annual typhoons and tropical depressions that cause floods, landslides and tidal surges.
These emergencies can leave thousands of people homeless and injured. Houses, roads, bridges, crops, and livelihoods destroyed.
In 2008, there were total of 157 health facilities including hospitals and community health centres damaged due to natural disasters in Viet Nam
The rain and floods made health facilities inaccessible. Many of them stopped functioning because of interruptions in power supplies, damaged water and waste-management systems, and other problems. Many health care workers were not able to report to work, and were unable to take care of the injured and the sick or to perform necessary public health roles.
This is why this year's World Health Day is devoted to the subject of making hospitals and other health facilities safe in emergencies. It is a timely topic in a world where natural and man-generated disasters are increasing.
People are beginning to understand that in disasters and emergencies, health facilities are crucial to survival. They must be structurally resilient, well equipped, and with health workers who are properly trained to respond. A safe hospital is a refuge and a beacon of hope in disasters, when people are often seized by confusion and fear.
Our experience in the past few years shows that ensuring hospital safety in disasters is relatively easy to implement and cost-effective. Incorporating disaster protection into designs from the beginning will add no more than 4% of the total cost. Technical guidelines are available to help with retrofitting, planning, and construction of health facilities that can withstand disasters. Managers and administrators can use a simple checklist without the help of engineers or architects.
Studies have shown that damage to health facilities can cost up to 60% of annual government health spending, so making facilities safe in the first place can sometimes be a means of actually saving money. Political will on the part of governments, leaders and hospital administrators is an important element in achieving this goal. They can ensure that hospitals are built in safe locations, that the design and construction of the facilities are sound and that staff is fully trained.
People have a right to health, and part of that is the right to be safe during disasters and emergencies.