As populations grow along coastlines and the urban poor find homes in larger cities with inadequate infrastructure, the impact of natural disasters is likely to grow rather than subside, according to Professor Paul Arbon, the Dean of Nursing and Midwifery at Flinders University.
Professor Arbon is the new president-elect of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine (WADEM), an international organisation of some 1,000 members that is devoted to improving the delivery of pre-hospital and emergency care and enhancing disaster health and preparedness.
“Unlike the Red Cross or Medicins Sans Frontieres, WADEM is not a response agency; rather, it provides the scientific support for developing practice and evaluation of responses,” Professor Arbon said.
Professor Arbon is the first non-physician to be elected president, a post he takes up in 2011. He said the membership is interdisciplinary, comprising not only health professionals, but also engineers, social scientists and historians.
WADEM publishes a journal, which as well as communicating the latest research developments to a network of international health bodies, is the organisation’s chief source of funding.
Professor Arbon’s own research interests lie in the area of mass gatherings, supplementing his work on first aid and emergency triage methods, all of which are relevant to his new post.
“There’s a real overlap between large populations of displaced people and massed gatherings in terms of the health issues they face,” he said.
Professor Arbon said that worldwide, living conditions and population shifts are creating a potential increase for casualties from natural disasters.
“If there is an earthquake, a cyclone or a bushfire, it will have a bigger impact than it would have had a few years ago, so there needs to be more understanding and support of what might be done in terms of prevention and, to some extent, response,” he said.
Professor Arbon said that several staff from the School of Nursing & Midwifery at Flinders had presented papers at the recent WADEM conference in Canada.
“It’s good for us to be doing something that is truly relevant in terms of humanitarian work and in making a difference out there.”