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The most important disasters rural hospitals should prepare for

The most important disasters rural hospitals should prepare for

Most of the time, governments focus on huge metros, and its rural areas are largely left untouched and under-prepared for disaster. This is owing to many factors such as tourism, budget restrictions and many will say, classicism, and appeasing more affluent people first. Yet, the rural areas are usually where disaster, especially natural disasters, is likely to strike. 

Rivers are in full flood

In the eastern and northern parts of South Africa where medical resources and personnel are in short supply, rural communities are feeling the impact of climate change and an unusually long and cold summer rain season. Rivers are in full flood and dams are overflowing where drought conditions had existed for many years. 

As health departments strain under the burden of nearly a year-long fight against the coronavirus, the South African government’s Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department and the relevant provincial, local and municipal departments have set up contingency plans for interventions and responses to disasters that could occur, the SABC reports. 

They’ve identified several flashpoints that could lead to devastation. These include above-average rainfall, floods, the impact of cyclones, severe storms, tornadoes, hail storms, veld fires, informal settlement fires and infrastructure that could be destroyed such as roads, bridges, telecommunications and other public infrastructure.

How hospitals can prepare for Disasters

Preparing rural hospitals for disaster is a major challenge in that they are often hampered by their remote location, limited resources and staff shortages. They already serve a multitude of ailments with whatever they have at hand. 

Each disaster that could occur would need a different set of contingency plans and staff would need to have been trained for any eventuality to continue operations until military rescue and disaster specialist medical support and aid workers can be brought in to assist. 

  • For natural disasters, weather services, for example, would have already identified potential risks – anything from floods to tornadoes. With this early warning, the rural hospital would have time to network with neighbouring hospitals, source extra supplies and provisions and mobile equipment and secure communication with all the relevant government departments. Where people are displaced, the hospital may find itself playing host to these people until aid organisations and the authorities are better able to accommodate them. 
  • Disease outbreaks such as the coronavirus, influenza and the Ebola virus are not just something that will occur only in urban areas. To be prepared, rural hospitals have to ensure that their laboratory and surveillance equipment are all fully functional, identify areas in the hospital that can be sectioned off for isolation. Equipment such as ventilators and other necessary equipment and protective gear would all need to be sourced.
  • They also need to prepare for industrial accidents, radiation, biochemical accidents. Often there are large power plants or industries operating in rural areas. Industrial waste may end up contaminating river supplies and could affect farming activities. In these instances, identifying space in the hospital that can serve as a decontamination area and extra patient care areas need to be part of any hospital disaster risk plan.  
  • Terror attacks can also not be taken lightly, especially in areas bordering neighbouring countries. Medical staff would need to be trained in emergency trauma treatment, which includes handling injuries from explosives, shock management, the removal of shrapnel, emergency operations and dressing wounds. Decontamination areas would be needed for any form of chemical attack.

Being prepared for Disasters

Disaster Risk Management is prevalent in all spheres of South African society, regions and rural areas, no matter how remote and under-resourced they are. 

These are key areas for which heads of rural hospitals should take into account:

  • Communication links to municipal, regional and national governments are vital until rescue services can be deployed in the area. 
  • Notably, as part of the infrastructure at rural hospitals, medical supplies and equipment should be stored in protected areas such as specially built strong rooms, in case of flooding or earthquakes because often medical personnel on-site when disaster hits are the ones who are best able to save the lives of the critically injured. 
  • Food, electricity, water and medicines are all key areas that have to be protected to ensure the delivery of medical services.
  • The hospital environment should continue to maintain safe and protected standards so medical staff can continue to deliver the necessary medical care. 

Who will assist with outfitting rural hospitals? 

The World Health Organization assists member states and their health authorities and multi-disciplinary teams with tools to keep rural health facilities safe and operational during emergency disaster situations. 

These include developing national policies, health economic factors, policy implementation and laws that will ensure safety from disasters; protect the facilities and the lives of the occupants – medical staff and patients; and ensure that facilities are energy-efficient and resilient to future risks such as climate change. 

iER

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