India is highly vulnerable to natural disasters due to its geo-climatic conditions and we are all aware of this. India has been affected by all kinds of natural disasters be it earthquake, landslides, tsunami or floods and we have also seen to what extent these have destroyed our country. The natural disasters like as the Uttarakhand floods, Gujarat earthquake, Odisha cyclone, Indian Ocean tsunami and many others should have been an eye-opener for the extreme level of destruction that these cause to the nation.
Not only natural disasters, India is also affected by other forms of disasters like fire, roads and rail accidents, bombs and terrorist attacks etc. A disaster of any type causes a huge disruption of the functioning of a society, leading to loss of lives, properties, material or environmental losses, including the country’s GDP. In spite of the fact that our country is prone to all forms of disasters, there has not been much changes in disaster management and the recent Kashmir floods is a proof of this.
India does not have a medical team for disasters
We do have the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), a disaster response agency. This comes under the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), created by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, in 2009. The NDMA is headed by the Prime Minister and State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) and also comprises Central Armed Police Forces, BSF, CRPF, CISF and ITBP. We also have various other programmes and departments to handle disasters etc. However, what we lack in disaster management is a separate medical team.
Why do we need a separate medical team during disasters?
For any kind of disasters, the affected people require immediate first aid. Majority of the people who escape death suffers from injuries, fractures, sprains, burns, crush-related injuries, shock and trauma. Another important after- effect of natural disasters is the outbreak of infectious diseases. Unplanned and overcrowded shelters, poor water, poor sanitation conditions, lack of food supplies, insufficient personal hygiene all combine together to cause various diseases which affect the people and they continue to suffer for a long time. Doctors and other workers should be there to stabilize the health of the affected people with emergency interventions.
Various phases where medical attention is required
- Phase 1: Immediate rescue of the people from the affected areas and to give them immediate first aid. This period may last up to a week. Here victims are extricated and initial treatment of disaster-related injuries and wounds need to be provided. If required the victims also need to be admitted in the hospital for proper medical care.
- Phase 2: This is the period when the outbreak of infectious diseases starts (1st week to a month or more). These can be water-borne, air-borne or food-borne infections and the victims require appropriate treatment so as to prevent the infections from spreading.
- Phase 3: Last phase also require medical help as this is the recovery phase, which starts after a month or so. If proper medical attention is not given in this stage, then there is every chance that infectious diseases among the affected community may grow into an epidemic.
What is a disaster medical assistance team (DMAT)?
In countries like as the US, there is a Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT). It is a team of medical professionals, supported by a logistical and administrative staff, who provide immediate medical care during a disaster. The team is deployed immediately to the affected sites with sufficient medicines, first-aid equipment and other related supplies so as to offer immediate help to the affected people. These medical personnel remain in the affected areas for a period of 72 hours to 2 weeks and may be more, depending on the severity of the condition.
It is not that medical attention is not provided during disasters in India. But, we require a complete professional set-up, a complete medical personnel team who is only responsible for treating people during emergencies like as the DMAT in the United States. These medical professionals should be given prior training to handle disasters and the affected people. They should be properly trained in area of medical specialization of providing assistance to disaster survivors, providing medically related disaster preparation, planning, response and recovery throughout the disaster cycle. It is high time now that India should have created its own exclusive medical team for disasters.