World Health Day 2009—Joining Forces to Have Hospitals Safe from Disasters


World Health Day is celebrated each April 7 to commemorate the foundation of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948. The focus for 2009 was on the need to ensure that hospitals and health facilities are safe from disasters and other emergencies. PAHO and WHO through their regional and national offices, in coordination with the Ministries of Health and other important partners, dedicated the celebration to promoting the issue in order to seek alliances and initiate actions and strategies which ensure progress towards the goal of safer hospitals.

This global effort led experts from different disciplines and the authorities to reflect on and discuss the importance of building hospitals which are safe from disasters. The world over, different activities took place, from forums, panels, exhibitions, public announcements, fairs, publications and initiatives with communications media, which highlighted the importance of the issue and the need to have the political commitment of decision-makers to achieve this objective. In addition, audiovisual, printed and multimedia materials were developed (see and relating to the celebration. In this way, it was possible to position the issue of the reduction of vulnerability in health facilities at the top of the list, as one of the priorities on the world public health agenda.

“There are many experiences which demonstrate that it is particularly cost-effective, including at political level, for hospitals to remain standing and continue functioning as models of security and solidity in the midst of catastrophe and desperation. We should never forget that hospitals and health services are an important investment. Preserving their safety in emergency situations protects this investment and at the same time protects the health and the safety of the population, which is our main concern”, indicated Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s Director General, in her commemorative speech during the celebration.

The Celebration in the Americas 

With the slogan “When disaster strikes, safe hospitals save lives,” the countries of the Americas joined the celebration which benefitted from the support and political backing of the authorities of the region. In particular, the decision by Colombia to launch a ministerial resolution, which set forth the safe hospital strategy as a public policy issue, stands out. In other words, the Colombian resolution builds on the recommendations made by the Member States in the Pan American Health Conference for disaster risk reduction in health facilities. This means that, to be accredited, new hospitals will have to comply with safety criteria which guarantee that their services will remain fully accessible during and after a disaster. In most of the countries the issue had significant coverage in the communications media, which included the theme in their information agendas for a whole week.

In Washington, Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of PAHO/WHO reiterated the call for decision-makers in each of the countries of the region to commit themselves to setting up national programs for safe hospitals and to mobilizing as much support as possible to make hospitals and health facilities safe from disasters.

Dedicating World Health Day to raise awareness on the issue is only part of a continuous task. April 7, however, marked the launch of a campaign for “building resilience” in health systems so that hospitals, clinics and medical personnel may resist crises, of whatever kind, and provide the health care needed by their communities during emergencies.

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