The PAHO Directing Council, made up by the Health Ministers of PAHO Member States, has adopted several resolutions on safe hospitals in recent years, urging countries to adopt national policies and develop work plans to achieve the goal of safe hospitals by 2015. To achieve this, a Regional Action Plan is being developed for discussion and approval at the 50th Meeting of the Directing Council, in September 2010.

The Regional Action Plan has been prepared and discussed with input from national and international experts in the region, and has been the subject of consultation in disaster programs of the ministries of health.

It is important to note that 67% of health facilities in Latin America and the Caribbean  are located in areas that are exposed to disaster risk. A hospital that is unable to function leaves an average of 200,000 people in this region without health care, and the loss of emergency services during disasters significantly reduces the chances of saving lives.

There is growing public demand for safe hospitals and growing political will to meet the demand, as can be seen from the resolutions, agreements, and commitments that have been adopted at the global, regional, and subregional levels. In the case of Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru, among others, political will has resulted in the creation and implementation of national hospital safety plans and programs. However, because of increasing public health concerns and shrinking public budgets, initiatives for safe hospitals must compete with other priorities, including the fight against poverty and inequality.

In some countries the responsibility for achieving the goal of safe hospitals by 2015 is led or shared by national, multisectoral disaster reduction agencies. In most countries, however, participation by other sectors in disaster reduction is still very limited, which has hampered the incorporation of the safe hospitals initiative into concrete, medium- and long-term actions.

While there have been advances in developing specific legislation on safe hospitals, most countries still lack updated standards and mechanisms for regulatory and administrative oversight that will ensure the safety and continued functioning of health facilities in the event of disaster.

Results from assessments using the Hospital Safety Index show that only 39% of hospitals are highly likely to remain functional in the event of a disaster and that 15% of hospitals are in urgent need of intervention measures. Application of the safety index has proven beneficial for strengthening health service networks, giving priority to measures that will improve safety, and developing disaster response plans in the health sector.

Objectives and outline of the plan of action

The Regional Action Plan is intended to enable Member States to adopt “Hospitals Safe from Disasters” as a national risk reduction policy. The goal is for all new hospitals to be built to a standard that will ensure their ability to remain functional in disaster situations, and to carry out appropriate mitigation measures to reinforce existing health facilities, especially those providing primary care.

The targets being proposed for Member Countries by 2015 include the following:

  • Establish a National Hospital Safety Program;
  • Systematize information on the construction of new hospitals and upgrading existing ones;
  • Establish mechanisms for monitoring the construction of hospitals and other investments in health facilities;
  • Include measures to ensure that health facilities will be able to function in case of disaster wherever new health investment projects are undertaken;
  • Ensure that current standards for the design, construction, and safe operation are used in new health facilities;
  • Carry out measures to improve the ability of existing health facilities to function in case of disaster.

There will be more information on this topic in the next newsletter. For information, please write to Dr. Ciro Ugarte, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.