Can hospitals in Latin America resist natural disasters?

According to PAHO reports, 67% of hospitals in the region would be built in a high-risk area

Can hospitals in Latin America resist natural disasters?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that nations invest at least 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in their health systems. However, only five Latin American countries meet this requirement and the rest face risks ranging from safety levels in the hospital infrastructure, to the limited capacity of medical centers to attend large-scale natural disasters.

Leer en español: ¿Pueden los hospitales en Latinoamérica soportar desastres naturales?

On June 20, 21 and 22, the VI Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas was held in Cartagena, Colombia. The event highlighted the progress that the region has made in terms of medical safety. However, it was also warned about the shortcomings in the structure that many of the hospitals in Latin America ignore and the potential risks that this could represent for patients.

During an interview for the program La Tarde de NTN24, Alejandro Arrieta, member of the Department of Health Policy and Management of the International University of Florida, who participated in the aforementioned meeting, explained the general condition of Latin American hospitals, when it comes to dealing with large emergencies.

For Arrieta, the difference in hospital infrastructure is notorious when comparing public entities with private ones. In addition, he highlights that one of the shortcomings lies in the fact that each country has different mechanisms and works independently on issues related to quality, safety and risks, which makes difficult applying accreditation systems or regulations established by the Pan American Health (PAHO).

Latin America: a region with hospitals in risk areas

In Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 67% of hospitals are built in risk areas according to the report Hospitals Safe from Disasters of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). To reduce this situation, the organization has initiated a series of projects in seven Caribbean countries to strengthen hospital facilities in worse conditions. However, the entity recognizes that work must still be done to integrate measures to guarantee the safety of medical personnel, patients, and infrastructure in the event of a disaster.

According to Arrieta, many of the hospitals in Latin America were built many years ago and require reinforcements or no longer have the required safety standards. Small health centers located in rural areas are the most vulnerable in this type of situation.

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As an example, the expert mentions the earthquake that Ecuador suffered in 2016, in which several health centers located in Esmeraldas and Manabí collapsed due to the strong earthquake. This fact highlights the deficiencies in infrastructure that many hospitals have and the risk that this represents for the communities during the time of attention of major disasters.

Although the collapse of medical entities could become a lesson for countries, some governments do not comply with the requirements imposed and this is evidenced again in Ecuador. In an article published in April by the local newspaper El Telégrafo, it was reported that the new public health centers that are built in the areas affected by the 2016 earthquake, do not meet the required safety standards. These would collapse again before an earthquake, as determined by the American Michael Constantinou, professor and director of the Structural and Seismic Engineering Simulation Laboratory of the State University of New York in Buffalo.

Another country to which Arrieta makes mention for the risk of the state of the hospitals is Peru. In this nation, the law requires that in the face of major disasters, doctors move to public medical centers to provide care to patients. However, according to the expert, most public hospitals in Peru are "old", the quality of infrastructure is lower than in private centers, and there is a greater likelihood of collapse, patient falls or other risks.

As highlighted in the report on Health in the Americas 2017 presented in September of that year by PAHO, only Cuba, the US, Canada, Costa Rica, and Uruguay meet WHO’s recommendation to invest 6% of their GDP in health systems.

According to the report, Venezuela and Haiti are the countries in the region that invest the least in this aspect, followed by Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Chile that invest between 2% and 4% of their GDP in health.

LatinAmerican Post | Krishna Jaramillo
Translated from “¿Pueden los hospitales en Latinoamérica soportar desastres naturales?”

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