AUSTRALIA’S TSUNAMI HEALTH RESPONSE A NATIONAL EFFORT
Posted on Friday, 28 January 2005
The Commonwealth Government today praised the state and territory governments for the co-operation in responding to the health crisis resulting from the recent Indian Ocean Tsunami.
“The coordinated efforts of all governments demonstrate our ability to use health resources effectively and efficiently in a crisis,” Tony Abbott said.
Within 24 hours of the tsunami, members of the Australian Health Disaster Management and Policy Committee (AHDMPC) met by teleconference to plan and implement Australia’s health response. This group, chaired by the Commonwealth and including the Chief Medical Officer, Professor John Horvath, was able to mobilise the health resources of all states and territories at very short notice.
The Department of Health and Ageing co-ordinated the response effort through the National Incident Room in Canberra, and included the full cooperation of the state and territory Chief Health Officers, who made the resources of their health systems available.
AusAid prioritised the health needs, the states and territories, together with the Department of Defence, provided the personnel and equipment, and Emergency Management Australia handled the logistics and movement of teams.
Australia has now sent seven civilian medical teams to the tsunami affected areas of Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The teams have included a mix of medical expertise, including acute care and public and environmental health.
The Australian civilian medical teams deployed to Banda Aceh have established a base at a private hospital and have operated under extremely difficult conditions.
The teams have performed 20-30 operations a day for severely injured patients and have treated hundreds of other patients with other serious medical conditions, such as severe lung infections and diarrheal disease.
Our teams have also identified and responded to health needs as they arose, including a large number of tetanus cases, for which emergency pharmaceutical supplies were quickly acquired and sent from Australia.
Public health experts in the medical teams have also made assessments and coordinated improvements in sanitary conditions within the hundreds of displaced person camps, particularly in Aceh but also in the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
There is also another team preparing to go to Indonesia. This team, predominantly from Victoria, will relieve a team currently in Banda Aceh which is made up of mainly personnel from South Australia.
My department is also assisting AusAid in the sending of two more rapid assessment teams to advise on re-establishing the provincial hospital in Banda Aceh and to assess the broader public health and primary care system in Aceh province.
The AHDMPC has established a public health advisory group to identify a range of issues that will require action in the next phase of the response. Our efforts prove that we have robust mechanisms in place to respond to health disasters as a result of natural or human-made events.
“In addition to this there are also many doctors, nurses and medical professionals volunteering their skills and time to help the many thousands of victims in need of medical attention. This is the latest demonstration of the ideals of duty and service which characterize Australia’s health professionals,” Tony Abbott said.
Media contact: Kate Miranda, 0417 425 227