Emergency preparedness

Mass emergencies, such as the Christchurch earthquakes, are becoming more common internationally, and New Zealand should give priority to planning for them, Dr Sultan Al-Shaqsi says.

The Christchurch earthquakes had been ''devastating'' and emergency preparedness had to be ''a national priority'', he said.

Dr Al-Shaqsi is an Omani-born medical doctor who recently became the first international student to graduate from the University of Otago with MB ChB medical qualifications and a PhD at the same graduation ceremony.

His PhD focused on a comparative study of acute care mass emergency preparedness in New Zealand and the Sultanate of Oman, in the Middle East.

Such ''mass emergencies''- whether triggered by earthquakes in New Zealand or tropical cyclones in Oman - caused ''significant human and economic loss''.

Acute healthcare services were usually the first to respond to mass emergencies. And a successful mass emergency response was determined by the level of preparedness.

New Zealand had a ''well-established national strategy for emergency preparedness''.

But there was ''an urgent need to integrate clinical providers into planning for emergencies'', and this had not always been done in regional emergency planning.

An extensive survey he had conducted of New Zealand doctors, nurses and ambulance officers found 44.8% of participating acute care providers had no training in mass emergencies (59.2% in Oman).

And the survey also found that during an infectious disease mass emergency, ''34% of acute care personnel were not willing to report to work''. Other research suggested the turnout would be higher than this, but his findings highlighted the importance of emergency training.

And it was clear a much higher proportion of people who had received such training felt more confident in dealing with such scenarios and were more likely to come to work during such an emergency, he said.

The Canterbury earthquakes had provided ''significant lessons'' and the New Zealand healthcare system needed to invest in mass emergency training.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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