Call for change of focus with cyclone planning
Scientists from JCU say disaster planners need to pay greater attention to people with ongoing health conditions when preparing for extreme events such as cyclones.
The multi-national team of public health specialists, including JCU researchers, looked at the after-effects of large storm systems such as Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi and Hurricane Katrina on people with ongoing health conditions across the world.
They found authorities tend to focus on immediate trauma and communicable diseases in the wake of a disaster.
However, disasters in developed countries rarely result in communicable disease outbreaks. They instead pose a growing risk for people with ongoing health conditions, with the treatment of those with renal diseases causing the most concern.
In both the US and Australia, the main challenges are communications, equipment and services, and treatment planning for people with ongoing health conditions.
The paper said Townsville Hospital’s Renal Unit began plans to evacuate following Cyclone Yasi after a city-wide power cut threatened the supply of safe water for patients requiring dialysis and hydration. The evacuation didn’t go ahead because power was restored.
JCU’s Benjamin Ryan says there is no comparable data for Australia, but there is growing evidence worldwide of a worsening in existing conditions. “After Hurricane Katrina there was a 47% increase in mortality one year later, which can be attributed to ongoing health conditions.”
He said there were no major issues in Australia or the US from widespread gastroenteritis and other communicable diseases after a disaster, which were thought to be the main threats. “We found that if it’s not an issue beforehand, it’s not likely to be an issue later.”
He says preparedness should be prioritised based on which ongoing health conditions are prevalent.
“People with ongoing health conditions are at a greater risk of ill health and mortality after a disaster”.
For Queenslanders, the most common concerns are cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes and renal diseases.
“We recommend that disaster planning changes to focus on ongoing health conditions rather than communicable diseases. This refocus will ensure disaster management systems can meet the challenges faced by modern disease priorities”.
Mr Ryan will be presenting the findings at the Pacific Risk Management Conference in Hawaii on 25 March.
Link to research and picture:
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