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Disaster Preparedness and Response (DP&R)

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Occupational therapists should be involved in all stages of planning and preparation at local district and national level for disaster management as well as post-disaster.

Practitioners should be equally responsive to psychological and psychiatric conditions as they are to physical disorders. A special focus is needed on the early detection of severe psychological distress and psychiatric phenomena. Occupational therapists’ education prepares them to be a major contributor to this refocusing of attention. Intra-professional support is essential. 

For vulnerable groups such as children, women and the elderly as well as individuals with previous disabilities and newly acquired conditions, meaningful occupation in daily personal and community activities can have therapeutic outcomes during disaster recovery. In all approaches to DP&R, gender roles must be sensitively addressed and strategies developed to enhance equality in opportunity and resource allocations.

WFOT notes a major task in disaster preparedness and response management for occupational therapists (and others working in health care) lies also in long term strategies in collaboration with key stakeholders. The potential benefits of the involvement of occupational therapists in disaster preparedness and response management are numerous and are related to immediate post disaster response as well as building longer term national capacity and self-reliance in disaster affected countries, and beyond.

Poster - Messages of Support Following the Chile Earthquake 2010

 

Roles

Specific roles post-disaster may include, but are not limited to the following:

  • ensuring accessible environments post disaster at all stages of recovery (e.g. in displaced persons camps) and reconstruction (in rebuilding homes and community facilities)
  • organization of daily routines in displaced persons camps and surviving communities to include persons with disabilities, women, elderly and children
  • liaison with and encouragement of community leaders and others to reorganize community supports and routines
  • use of everyday occupations including play and sports to facilitate recovery
  • assessment of mental health status of survivors for depression and suicidal tendencies, with subsequent counselling and occupation-based activities
  • training of volunteers to carry out ‘quick mental health assessment’ and counselling, thus providing more immediate services for greater numbers.

Strategies

Strategies include:

  • disaster affected communities and people being better served by better equipped local health professionals in their ongoing efforts to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, contributing to outcomes that can be sustained by local service providers and systems as donor programs wind down
  • local health professionals (occupational therapists and others as involved in this project) engaging with disaster and reconstruction policy, planning and coordination mechanisms, contributing pertinent expertise to the current response effort while laying the foundation for more cohesive involvement and response efforts in the event of future disasters
  • local occupational therapists and others more effectively able to participate in and progress wider community, government and international objectives for enabling ‘access for all’ to community based rehabilitation and health care services, contributing to the achievement of national, regional (eg. United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and United Nations (UN) goals (e.g. World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Human Rights and Millennium Development Goals)
  • stronger networking and coordination between local health professionals, government services and projects, and national and international NGO programs, potentially providing for a more integrated, holistic and yet rationalised and self-reliant service framework
  • at a more practical level, benefits include: better quality, ongoing care and support for individuals and their families, particularly those with psycho-social trauma and physical injuries who will benefit from occupational and community based rehabilitation and support programs; stronger referral and follow-up systems between community care, hospital and rehab centre programs; and more disability and age friendly accessibility in private and public buildings/spaces
  • relationships between donors and occupational therapy organisations (including WFOT and national associations) established that lay the foundation for ongoing partnerships for mutual benefit and the benefit of communities into the future.