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'Little change in emergency medical response since Sewol disaster'
  • By Kwak Sung-sun
  • Published 2017.03.31 10:48
  • Updated 2017.03.31 10:55
  • comments 0

Exactly 1,073 days after the Sewol ferry disaster killed 304 people, the salvaging team raised the hull of the ill-fated coastal liner on March 26. Now the calls are growing louder for revamping the nation’s emergency medical response system.

The Korean Society of Emergency Medicine (KSEM) released a statement Tuesday, calling for local autonomous bodies to refurbish their system to get better prepared for making medical responses in times of disasters by utilizing emergency medical funds.

“While participating in the medical support activities during the Sewol catastrophe, we have come to realize how weak and temporary Korea’s medical support system was in responding to disasters,” the statement said. “Fortunately but belatedly, the government began to designate and operate regional disaster-response facilities. However, it still leaves much to be desired as far as emergency response system is concerned.”

“When disasters happen, we can minimize damages only when municipal and provincial governments and their medical workforce can respond to them early,” the statement went on to say. “Local governments are primary organizations to conduct disaster medical treatment along with regional medical professionals, but many of these autonomous bodies are experiencing difficulties allocating human and material resources and training experts.”

KSEM pointed out that the current disaster medical response system fails to reflect local circumstances.

The statement noted that disasters have different features depending on the region, which means each region should have its level of preparation regarding workforce and facilities to deal with disasters.

It stressed the central government should allow these localities to use their emergency medical funds for improving disaster medical responses, making policies and training people.

Citing the example of the Sewol rescue operation during which many divers suffered from decompression sickness, it pointed out there were not a single hyperbaric facility used for gas poisoning or decompression trouble in South Jeolla Province and Gwangju.

The statement also indicated there are too few opportunities to train the medical workforce to establish an emergency medical system, and institutional guarantee is inadequate. Most advanced countries, including the United States, are training disaster relief medical professionals by registering them in advance, but Korea is not doing so.

“Korea doesn’t have a prior registration system. Whenever accidents occur, people on duty are temporarily assigned to handle them. Because they aren’t skilled people, systematic activities with other people on the field are impossible,” it said. “Site controllers, too, leave the treatment to nearby medical staff while not sure they are experienced medical specialists. That system requires urgent improvement.”

To solve this problem, it is necessary to implement a registration system for medical staffs to deal with disasters, and grant the status of government employees to such registered people, KSEM added.

kss@docdocdoc.co.kr

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