Prepared to react? Assessing the functional capacity of the primary health care system in rural Orissa, India to respond to the devastating flood of September 2008

Institute of Public Health, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.
Global Health Action (Impact Factor: 1.65). 03/2012; 5. DOI: 10.3402/gha.v5i0.10964
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Early detection of an impending flood and the availability of countermeasures to deal with it can significantly reduce its health impacts. In developing countries like India, public primary health care facilities are frontline organizations that deal with disasters particularly in rural settings. For developing robust counter reacting systems evaluating preparedness capacities within existing systems becomes necessary.
The objective of the study is to assess the functional capacity of the primary health care system in Jagatsinghpur district of rural Orissa in India to respond to the devastating flood of September 2008.
An onsite survey was conducted in all 29 primary and secondary facilities in five rural blocks (administrative units) of Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa state. A pre-tested structured questionnaire was administered face to face in the facilities. The data was entered, processed and analyzed using STATA(®) 10.
Data from our primary survey clearly shows that the healthcare facilities are ill prepared to handle the flood despite being faced by them annually. Basic utilities like electricity backup and essential medical supplies are lacking during floods. Lack of human resources along with missing standard operating procedures; pre-identified communication and incident command systems; effective leadership; and weak financial structures are the main hindering factors in mounting an adequate response to the floods.
The 2008 flood challenged the primary curative and preventive health care services in Jagatsinghpur. Simple steps like developing facility specific preparedness plans which detail out standard operating procedures during floods and identify clear lines of command will go a long way in strengthening the response to future floods. Performance critiques provided by the grass roots workers, like this one, should be used for institutional learning and effective preparedness planning. Additionally each facility should maintain contingency funds for emergency response along with local vendor agreements to ensure stock supplies during floods. The facilities should ensure that baseline public health standards for health care delivery identified by the Government are met in non-flood periods in order to improve the response during floods. Building strong public primary health care systems is a development challenge. The recovery phases of disasters should be seen as an opportunity to expand and improve services and facilities.

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