World health Experts Meet in China to Discuss How to Handle Natural Disasters

2009-04-03 12:44 1712

CHENGDU, China, April 3 /PRNewswire-Asia/ -- The World Health Organization (WHO) and China's Ministry of Health today opened a jointly organised international conference here on health responses to natural disasters, with a focus on the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in south-central China last year.

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Supported by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, the International Conference on Health Responses to Natural Disasters was opened by China's Minister of Health, Chen Zhu, and WHO's Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan.

The two-and-a-half day event gathers global experts to discuss their experiences in emergency medical rescue, coordinating health responses to disasters, preventing disease outbreaks, and longer-term recovery and reconstruction of health facilities.

"The Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan on 12 May 2008 was the most destructive earthquake to strike China in decades, resulting in widespread devastation and difficulties in the rescue operation. The ensuing disaster rescue operation was the fastest in decades, with massive deployments and efforts," said Health Minister Chen. "A famous Chinese proverb, 'review for renewal', suggests that we must always look back and reach conclusions on the work we have done to increase our knowledge of all things, and see where we can do better."

WHO's Dr Chan stressed the importance of building safe hospitals, the theme of this year's World Health Day, which falls on 7 April. "Few countries in the world are immune to natural disasters and emergencies," said the WHO Director-General. "But we can mitigate these risks by building health facilities that can withstand and function in all emergencies, so that they protect patients and staff and provide vital health services during crises."

In addition to the Wenchuan quake, conference participants will hear how practitioners coordinated health responses in the aftermath of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji earthquake in Japan. Speakers from the Philippines and Japan will also discuss their experiences in managing mass casualties in emergencies.

"Every disaster poses different challenges for different governments and agencies, but we all share one goal -- to save as many lives as possible," said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO's Regional Director for the Western Pacific, a region that covers China and has accounted for more than a quarter of the world's natural disasters in the past 10 years. "We can't prevent natural disasters from happening, but we can prevent them from turning into man-made disasters by sharing what we know and by being prepared for future emergencies."

Source: World Health Organization