Five years have passed since the creation of the Disaster Mitigation Advisory Group (DiMAG) as a resource which provides advice to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and its members in a variety of themes related to disaster mitigation and risk reduction in the health sector.
The group was set up in 2003 as a way of dealing with three important facts: new hospitals are being built in the region without taking risks and natural hazards into consideration; many existing hospitals show unsatisfactory performance in emergency and disaster situations; and countries and health facilities need to be able to ensure access to independent, technical advice.
From then on, DiMAG’s inputs have been of great value and use in the review of terms of reference for the design and construction standards for health facilities; in the building of capacities and the provision of advice on policies for disaster mitigation, project management, the assessment of health facilities after a disaster; and the review of PAHO/WHO technical publications.
The group works before and after the occurrence of natural and anthropic disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, fires, and explosions. The contribution from its members has not been limited solely to the Americas. For example, last year one of its members took part in the WHO assessment mission following the Sichuan earthquake in China, in which technical information was exchanged on experiences in other countries and regions related to the reconstruction of services and health facilities which were destroyed by the earthquake.
DiMAG is made up of experts from different disciplines (engineering, architecture, disaster management, emergency services, economics, and so forth) with a long history of work in developing countries. It was within the DiMAG that ideas such as the creation of the Hospital Safety Index (a tool which assesses the degree of safety of health facilities), the development of the new Wind Hazard Maps for the Caribbean and the “turn key” concept were born, all of which are important aspects of the “Safe Hospitals” initiative.
DiMAG’s suggestions and inputs continually improve working areas and action with regard to the country support which PAHO provides. In its most recent annual meeting held last December in Panama, the DiMAG made recommendations that will form part of PAHO/WHO strategic actions in the coming years, such as: the development of a strategy which guarantees the application of the Hospital Safety Index, the training of evaluators, the creation of methodological, learning tools, the drawing up of terms of reference for independent evaluators, and the design of documents on the “turn key” process.
In addition, it was proposed that future measures for safe hospitals take into account the risks associated with climate change, as well as the creation of a fire safety guide which will include procedures for carrying out evaluation exercises as part of the hospital preparedness program, and the development of a detailed guide targeted at those working at the political level and those in charge of making decisions in order to promote the inclusion and use of existing tools in the design and construction of hospitals and health facilities.