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Health is wealth

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World Health Day, on 7 April, marks the founding of the World Health Organization and is an opportunity to draw worldwide attention to a subject of major importance to global health each year. In 2008, World Health Day focuses on the need to protect health from the adverse effects of climate change.

The theme "protecting health from climate change" puts health at the center of the global dialogue about climate change. this theme was selected in recognition that climate change is posing ever growing threats to global public health security.

Through increased collaboration, the global community will be better prepared to cope with climate-related health challenges worldwide. Examples of such collaborative actions are: strengthening surveillance and control of infectious diseases, ensuring safer use of diminishing water supplies, and coordinating health action in emergencies

World Health Day 2009 focuses on the safety of health facilities and the readiness of health workers who treat those affected by emergencies. Health centres and staff are critical lifelines for vulnerable people in disasters - treating injuries, preventing illnesses and caring for people’s health needs.

They are cornerstones for primary health care in communities – meeting everyday needs, such as safe childbirth services, immunizations and chronic disease care that must continue in emergencies. Often, already fragile health systems are unable to keep functioning through a disaster, with immediate and future public health consequences.

This year, WHO and international partners are underscoring the importance of investing in health infrastructure that can withstand hazards and serve people in immediate need. They are also urging health facilities to implement systems to respond to internal emergencies, such as fires, and ensure the continuity of care

The theme for this year’s World Health Day is “Health Facilities in Emergencies”. The South-East Asia Region has long experienced many disasters and in some of these health facilities were a major casualty. For example, during the 26 December 2004 tsunami, 30 of the 240 health clinics were destroyed in Aceh province, Indonesia and seriously damaged 77 others.

In Sri Lanka, 92 health facilities were destroyed including 35 hospitals. In 2001 in Gujurat, India, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake destroyed 3812 health facilities. These are some examples of disaster situations where health services are affected and at times unavailable when they are most needed.

The focus of the biennial World Disaster Reduction Campaign (2008-2009) is also on the same issue: “Hospitals Safe from Disasters: Reduce Risk, Protect Health Facilities, Save Lives.” In this global effort, WHO is partnering with the Secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) and the World Bank to work so that all health facilities stand up to emergencies and continue to function.

The goal of raising awareness in this issue is to effect changes that will ensure that health facilities and services are able to function in the aftermath of emergencies and disasters, protect the lives of patients, serve the affected population and keep health workers safe. This means:

* ensuring the structural resilience of health structures with existing technologies;

* keeping the equipment and supplies of these health facilities intact should an emergency happen;

* improving the preparedness and risk reduction capacity of health workers; and ;

* involving communities in this effort.

Safe health facilities are those that are accessible and function at maximum capacity immediately after a disaster event. health facilities, large or small, urban or rural, are the focus of this work.

This is not just the work of the health sector and health professionals alone. We need to work together with other sectors and experts from other fields such as urban planners, architects, engineers to bring not just awareness, but more importantly action.

In WHO’s South-East Asia Region, Member States are committed to achieving a benchmark that health facilities, old or new, are safe from disasters. A Regional Consultation with Member States was conducted in April 2008 to plan out the next steps for country specific needs and activities have begun in some countries already.


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