Bangladesh + 2 more

In Brief: Seconds vital in disaster preparedness for hospitals

BANGKOK, 19 October 2010 (IRIN) - How quickly can hospitals and health centres react to natural disasters like earthquakes or floods, asks the UN World Health Organization (WHO) on a newly-launched Facebook page, which aims to spread the message about boosting hospital safety to withstand disasters.

A timed test gauges visitors' reaction time; the average score is 0.371 seconds. "Disasters unfold during those first seconds, which is when poorly-braced health systems start to crash," said WHO's Geneva-based Safe Hospitals Initiative coordinator Jonathan Abrahams. Governments signing on to the initiative pledge to make their hospitals safer by improving building codes, preparing emergency plans and bolstering community preparedness.

Almost half a million people have died in natural disasters in Southeast Asia over the past decade: Few health facilities survived the 2007 cyclone in Bangladesh, meaning 60,000 injured went without care; China's 2008 earthquake destroyed 11,000 health centres; a 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India, destroyed more than 3,800 health facilities, leading to a near total collapse of health care in one of the worst-hit areas.

"We say never again," said Abrahams. "And then we see it again."