Shripad Desai, MD and Country Director, Americares India Foundation, Mumbai, explains how synergy between NGOs, pharmaceutical companies and government can help reduce the community burden during disasters
Pharmaceutical and healthcare organisations have a vital role to play during all phases of disaster management. During a disaster, communities are at risk of infectious diseases, water borne diseases and a potential disease outbreak. Access to healthcare facilities and medical supplies is disrupted and can take days to restore. Patients suffering from chronic diseases, terminal illnesses and populations requiring special attention (the elderly, disabled, pregnant women and children below five years) are at a higher risk.
Nagamal, mother of two young children, faced the wrath of nature second time in December 2016, when Cyclone Vardha’s forceful winds blew away the makeshift rooftop of her small hut. The heavy rains that accompanied the cyclone, not only flooded her house, but also revived the terrifying memories of the previous year’s massive Tamil Nadu floods, which had inundated her entire neighbourhood of Annai Anjugam Nagar, a slum hamlet which lies on the bank of Adyar River in Tambaram district of Tamil Nadu.
Nagamal and her family were evacuated and taken to a community shelter, where they spent several days amidst suffering and shortage of resources. Unlike in December 2017, Nagamal was not scared to return home since she knew that in times of major crisis, Americares India provides vulnerable communities, such as hers, access to healthcare, relief material and humanitarian aid.
Nagamal was especially vulnerable, being a few months into pregnancy with her second child. By the time Nagamal sought antenatal care at General Hospital Tambaram, Americares had donated vital medical equipment to replace the ones that were damaged in the flood. Nagamal’s pregnancy had been stressful and her baby needed special care at birth. Fortunately the New-born Safety Unit, with support from Americares, was ready and Nagamal’s baby received the care she needed.
General Hospital Tambaram was just one of more than 30 health facilities across four districts of Tamil Nadu which Americares supported after the floods. Americares collaborated with the local government for speedy recovery of health infrastructure in flood affected regions. Twenty seven Primary Health Centres and four General Hospitals that we supported through replacement and upgradation of high-end medical equipment are geared to serve the communities for years to come
Healthcare players have a catalysing role
The three phases require active participation by the healthcare providers.
Response: Immediately after a disaster, pharma companies can mitigate the healthcare hazards through product donations of medicines, vaccines, IV fluids, etc. to NGOs like Americares that partner with government, charitable hospitals and health camp organisers. Medical doctors and other employees also have the opportunity to volunteer for health camps conducted during the response phase.
When disaster strikes, it is vital to provide immediate access to healthcare to prevent and cure diseases.
Relief: During the second phase, the focus is on providing relief support to the affected communities. As families return to their homes, they need support to rebuild their lives. Pharma companies can partner with NGOs to ensure families have access to vital relief materials including health and hygiene kits, warm clothing, kitchen sets, mosquito nets and safe drinking water, among other items.
Recovery: During the recovery phase, Americares focuses on speedy recovery of damaged health infrastructure like health centres and hospitals. Pharma organisations can focus on supporting replacement and upgradation of damaged equipment and facility.
Long-term impact is created by repairing, restoring and upgrading medical equipment in health facilities post-disasters
The CSR Bill 2013 recognises the support provided during disaster relief under section VII and pharma companies can dedicate a portion of their CSR budget towards disaster relief activities.
Americares partners with leading Indian and global multi-national pharma companies, towards emergency response and ongoing health programmes. Americares India is the emergency response partner to the member organisations of the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI).
Government efforts need boost from NGOs and healthcare players
Government plays a crucial role during disaster relief and recovery. During the December 2015 Tamil Nadu flood, Americares worked closely with the local and state government to identify areas where intervention was most crucial and to meet the governments’ immediate needs for conducting effective relief and response.
In times of crisis, governments are under immense pressure to deliver aid to everyone affected. Many times, they are prepared with pre-positioned relief material which can be distributed whenever an emergency occurs. To be better prepared to tackle crisis situations, governments can build capacity of the local communities by training first line responders in disaster response, administering of first aid etc. This can help save numerous lives before the government or any agency can reach the location and provide relief.
Government can also prevent health emergencies by closely monitoring the trends in their communities and taking the right measures to curb major outbreaks of diseases. In a situation where an emergency has already taken place, the focus should be on establishing partnerships with healthcare players and NGOs that can provide adequate medicines to meet the needs of the communities.
Access to information through rapid assessment is crucial for an effective response by any agency. In disaster-prone areas, the local government should invest in infrastructure to facilitate information flow using modern technology. This information and assessment should be made available to development sector organisations for rapid mobilisation and appropriate resource allocation. The local government can make a huge difference in relief and recovery efforts by ensuring appropriate and methodical co-ordination of relief efforts. This would optimise the resource utilisation and enhance the response efficiency of all stakeholders.
Americares works across the continuum of disaster management
Americares India responds to natural disasters and humanitarian crises, establishing long-term recovery projects and bringing disaster preparedness programmes to vulnerable communities. With a robust pre-positioning plan and strong pan-India network of partners, Americares is among the first to respond to emergencies. Working through readiness, response and recovery, Americares stay as long as needed, helping to restore health services for survivors.
When Tamil Nadu was inundated by one of the worst floods, Americares’ medical teams were swift to provide primary care for more than 30,000 survivors. Americares donated essential medicines and medical supplies to ensure uninterrupted access to healthcare. More than 10,000 families received essential relief materials that helped them rebuild their homes and lives.
Health camps conducted post-disasters help provide primary care to survivors from low-income communities.
Americares continues to work in Anjugam Nagar to ensure the community has access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene. Its team of doctors and health workers will provide health education in the community, helping protect families from illness and diseases.
At Americares, the goal is to empower communities and frontline health workers across the continuum of disaster management. Americares works towards improving survival rates and health outcomes by strengthening the speed, scale and quality of available medical aid and health services. This is only possible through partnerships with our healthcare partners and the local government.