The Smart Hospitals and Emergency Medical Teams Initiatives at the SIDS4: Setting Standards for the Road to Climate Resilience and Readiness of Small Island States

Event panelists seated. Event banner behind them.

Antigua and Barbuda. 26 June 2024 (PAHO) - The 4th International Conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS4), which took place in Antigua on 27-30 May 2024, gathered key stakeholders committed to advocating for the voices of SIDS populations. Small Island Developing States face unique challenges, including disproportionate vulnerabilities to climate change and natural hazards, that require immediate and tailored support.

In alignment with the SIDS4 theme, 'Charting the Course Toward Resilient Prosperity,' the conference was the opportunity to showcase two flagship initiatives of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) aimed at strengthening climate resilience and improving health emergency preparedness and response capacities in Latin America and Caribbean countries. The side event session titled “Smart Hospital Initiative addressing emergencies and climate change resilience: a blueprint for SIDS”, hosted by PAHO on Day 3 of the event, presented the successful experiences of the Caribbean countries in incorporating climate mitigation and adaptation strategies in critical health infrastructures. The SIDS4 conference was also the perfect setting to demonstrate the value and capacity of the Antigua and Barbuda Emergency Medical Team (EMT) which was set up on the grounds of the event to provide initial medical assistance for any health emergencies occurring onsite. 

The Smart Hospital side event highlighted the relevance and contribution of the Smart Hospital initiative as a successful approach for building- climate-resilient and low-carbon sustainable health infrastructure in small island developing states and how Building on evidence of impact from prior emergencies, the event showcased how the initiative has set a new “gold standard” for infrastructure disaster and climate resilience in SIDS and promoted lessons learned and best practices from Caribbean countries on incorporating such standards in health facilities designs, building codes, and operations.  

event panelists seated


The session featured insightful discussions following a keynote addressed by Dr. Jorge Polanco, Director of Hospital Services and Allied Health at the Ministry of Health and Wellness of Belize and remarks by The Rt Hon Lord Benyon, Minister of State (Climate, Environment, and Energy) at both the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Minister expressed, “We have seen the difference “smart” hospitals have made across several countries, surviving the onslaught of hurricanes, volcanoes, and earthquakes while buildings collapsed around them.” Ms Mary Lou Valdez, PAHO Deputy Director closed the session thanking everyone for their contribution to make the session a success. 

In parallel, and throughout the conference, the Antigua and Barbuda Emergency Medical Team, played a fundamental role in ensuring the health and safety of thousands of participants, with the assistance of PAHO’s EMT technical team. This specialized team successfully completed its first mission by demonstrating its readiness and capability as a fixed Type 1 EMT. This EMT recently received essential support from PAHO, including extensive training and the implementation of a comprehensive patient information system that allows for efficient registration and tracking of patients treated by the EMT. PAHO also provided other vital resources to bolster the team's effectiveness, including a water supply kit, waste management kit, medical imaging kit, and a portable ultrasound device.  

"EMT inside a mobile hospital. A group of persons visiting the tent to meet the team. 2d photo: 2 EMTs members using a information system on their tablet. 3rd photo: EMT registering a patient.""

Throughout the deployment, the EMT welcomed visits from several delegations attending SIDS-4. Among these were representatives from Spain and the United States, who have been pivotal in supporting this EMT and others in the Region of the Americas, including the delegations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain, the US State Department, and the Spain and US Embassies in Jamaica. Their visits underscored the international collaboration and support crucial for the success of emergency response efforts led by EMT Americas.

Ambassador Michele Sison, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, U.S. Department of State, expressed her gratitude for the PAHO’s Emergency Medical Team (EMT) supporting the SIDS4 and pointed out the humanitarian side of the initiative. “Since its inception, the EMT’s ability to surge medical capacity has saved lives, preserved health, and alleviated suffering, said Sison in her X account.”

The close collaboration with national health networks and their leaders was key to ensuring an effective and coordinated emergency response during SIDS-4. These networks included prehospital EMS, public health rapid response teams, and other essential services. Their combined efforts exemplify the National Health Emergency Corp (NHEC) approach, promoting a unified and efficient health emergency response.

This milestone signifies a major step forward in building a self-sustainable response unit that can manage health emergencies within the country. The experience gained from this deployment is also crucial for preparing the team for the upcoming hurricane season, ensuring they are well-equipped to respond to natural hazards or outbreaks.

PAHO remains dedicated to improving health system resilience and enhancing the capacity of Member States to respond to health emergencies and disasters. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for making the Smart Hospital side event possible, and to the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), and the United States Department for their generous donations and unwavering support to the EMT in Antigua and Barbuda. Your contributions are invaluable in our collective mission to respond effectively to emergencies.