Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said on Friday that the country is not equipped to handle natural disasters, and added that initiatives like toll-free number, which will help one get access to an ambulance within 10 minutes, will change all of that in a few years' time.
"When the tsunami struck in 2004, we realised how ill prepared we were. We were not prepared to handle the situation. The only positive thing was the resilience of the local people," Ramadoss said at the 20th international conference of the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (AMDA) in New Delhi.
"One of the lessons that we learnt from the tsunami was that we require a strong base of psycho-social support for the victims of disasters. We also realised that we don't have enough capacity in our district headquarter hospitals."
Talking about the initiatives being taken to build a stronger support system which can handle disasters, Ramadoss said that by the end of three years a common toll-free telephone number across the country would give people access to an ambulance immediately.
"There will be trauma road centres, and 20,000 ambulances across the country to which the people will have access, through telephone calls, within 10 minutes. This should happen by the end of three years," he said.
Ramadoss also talked about a National Programme of Emergency and Trauma, under which trauma centres will be set up on national highways. "There will be a telephone booth every five km on national highways, an ambulance standing every 50 km, a trauma centre after every 100 km, a speciality trauma centre every 200 km and a super speciality centre every 500 km."
"This plan will go a long way in helping people during emergency situations and should be approved soon," he said. Besides six institutes like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which are planned to be set up in states, Ramadoss said, Rs.1.2 billion have been earmarked to improve the infrastructure of 13 hospitals across the country.
"Also according to the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Rs.20-100 million will be dedicated to district headquarter hospitals for betterment of their infrastructure," Ramadoss said. Mobile emergency units - with 14 containers, operation theatres, Intensive Care Units, nearly 200 beds, a generator room, a computer room and other such facilities - is another initiative.
Similarly, mobile disaster trains with all amenities to handle crisis situations is another proposal on the agenda. "We are also planning to modify the Public Health Act which is outdated, and make it more vibrant," Ramadoss said.
Doctors from as many as 15 Asian countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Korea, Nepal, Taiwan and New Zealand, participated in the conference whose subject of discussion was to create a network of doctors in Asia for effective disaster management.