Major Boost for Disaster Response Services

A wide cross section of Antigua and Barbuda’s Disaster Response Services received a major boost this week with the hosting of a two-day workshop designed to strengthen the country’s Health Disaster Management Programs.

The exercise, which was held in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and the Environment, the Pan American Health Organization as well as the Health Sector of the Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Program, brought together a number of stakeholders in the health industry for a training and program planning meeting.

Present at the gathering were leaders from the Emergency Medical Services, the National Office of Disaster Services, the Fiennes Institute, Pharmaceutical Services, the Public Health Nurses Division, the Medical Health Office and Belmont Clinic.

The Solid Waste Department, Clarevue Psychiatric Hospital, Ministry of Health Headquarters and Mount St John’s Medical Centre were also represented.

The two-day forum was facilitated by PAHO’s International Disaster Reduction and Response Consultant, Dr Marion Bullock DuCasse, who gave an overview of PAHO’s Health Emergencies Program, Disaster Risk Management for Health, Components of the Health Disaster Management Program and Identification of Gaps and Priority Setting.

The first day of the forum was hosted at the Headquarters of the Ministry of Health and the Environment while day two was staged at the Office of the National Disaster Services.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Health Disaster Coordinator, Dr Lori-Ann Henry-Johnson, gave a detailed outline of some of the plans in the pipeline to strengthen the country’s health disaster response units.

“We have a national sector plan and we have revised some of it and so we need to complete that. We also want to look at mass casualty management training which will occur in May and we also want to consider making our health centres technologically smart. We are going to start with the centres at Grays Farm and Browne’s Avenue and then we are going to assess our other health facilities. Eventually, we are hoping that all of these centres will be technologically smart. We also want to do what is called vulnerability or hazard mapping which is really to assess what we are at risk for in the health centres to see how we can be as best prepared as possible,” said Henry-Johnson.

The Public Health Official added that they do not want to wait until something happens to get the ball rolling so they are taking the initiative now to be ready and prepared for any eventualities.

“We do not want to wait until we get to such a point so we are focusing even a little more on what is really disaster risk reduction, looking at potential hazards. For example, gastroenteritis seems to be increasing with the drought so we want to make sure that our community, as well as our health sector, are trained and that there are plans in place to reduce the possibility of a disaster,” Dr Henry-Johnson disclosed.

Following the two-day event, a number of policies, priorities and activities were developed and passed by the executive body to include; a national safe hospital policy, disaster risk reduction policy, assessment of five health facilities, an Airport Emergency Drill, a Ministry of Health and the Environment Emergency Drill, mass casualty and assessment training and retrofitting of health facilities.

The five facilities that were designated for assessment are the Browne’s Avenue Clinic, St John’s Health Centre, the Grays Farm Clinic, the Mount St John Hospital and Cedar Grove Clinics.

Head of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), Philmore Mullin, believes that the two-day workshop is of paramount importance to the twin island state because a country’s health services normally bear the brunt of the work during times of disasters.

“Where disaster management is concerned, in most cases if the disaster is bad, the Ministry of Health ends up with the back end of it because those who are injured or those who are killed will more than likely end up at the Ministry of Health in some shape or form. It is of critical importance that the Ministry of Health has its house in order in terms of providing healthcare in a sustained manner. The Ministry of Health must be able to function at a level where they can provide the relevant services on a daily basis before, during and after any situation,” Mullin noted.

He disclosed that having the facilities is one thing, but the human element is the most critical mitigating factor in the delivery of services during the greatest time of need.

“That requires a certain amount of mitigation into the healthcare facilities that are built in terms of the location, the structural integrity, the operational vulnerability and all of those things need to be taken into consideration in the actual physical facility. But then the issue of the healthcare providers, the nonstructural mitigation procedures, plans, legislations, all of those things need to come together to ensure that the Ministry of Health offers superior healthcare to its citizens,” said Mullin.

Mullin also spoke of plans by NODS to hold tsunami drills in a number of schools across the island in a bid to keep tsunami awareness in the forefront.

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