State plan for disaster medicine examines public health emergency readiness

EDF field hospital in the grounds of Kuressaare Hospital on Saaremaa, in spring 2020.
EDF field hospital in the grounds of Kuressaare Hospital on Saaremaa, in spring 2020. Source: Margus Muld/ERR

A disaster medicine plan has been in the works at the national level since September and will be presented to the government in mid-December. The document gives an overview of the public health emergency preparedness and disaster response capabilities.

Where is Estonia's current health network, and what is the country's medical preparedness to respond to a emergency disaster? These are the main questions that the document under development addresses.

"The world is changing so fast that, after three years of discussing pandemics and pandemic preparedness, today we are also talking about radiation, chemistry and related accidents, i.e. mass casualties in very extreme situations. We need to think broad how we could or should evacuate hospitals, where we go when we need more space," Ministry of Social Affairs Undersecretary Heidi Alasepp explained.

The disaster medicine plan incorporates both the lessons learnt from the Ukraine war and the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.

Alasepp said that the implementation of the crisis management system, including the establishment and operation of medical bases in northern and southern Estonia, is one of the pandemic crisis management's effective outcomes.

According to the plan, the strengths of Estonian disaster medicine lie of training and effective coordination across different organizations. 

The involvement of the Defense Forces in health issues is given specific consideration.

"Practicing it in drills is one thing, but putting it into practice, such as by going to Kuressaare Hospital and transforming their trauma center into an infectious disease unit, is something quite different. Such experiences are vital for establishing a close working relationship with another organization on a daily basis. ," Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Lt Col. Ahti Varblane, Chief Medical Officer of the War and Disaster Medical Center, said.

Developing a disaster medicine plan, Varblane added, is a necessary step because it establishes a standard approach for how medicine should prepare for crises and disasters. Partners also believe that in the future, continuing education and training in disaster medicine will be necessary to maintain competence.

"The Covid-19 crisis proved the importance of having some reserves on hand.
I recall running out of masks; I was working in a hospital at the time, and we were collecting surgical masks from every cabinet. We have now accounted for the fact that a reserve is needed. We are also actively exploring the energy issue and generator supply. I believe we have done a great deal this year, but there is still a lot of work to do," Alasepp said.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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