AHP1402:            Disaster Management Challenges from Non-communicable Diseases: Lessons Learned & Questions Going Forward

Speaker:              Benjamin Ryan, MPH

Due to population aging and an increase in longevity, there has been a disease transition to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are the challenge for the 21st Century.  This is a new concept for environmental health and disaster management to explore, as the focus has traditionally been on communicable diseases in the disaster setting.


Today, damages to public health infrastructure such as food, water, and sanitation, place the vulnerable population with NCDs at great risk.  In this session we discuss and debate possible approaches to and roles environmental health professionals play in mitigating the risks of disaster.




The purpose of the learning lab is to explore the role environmental health professionals may have in responding to the impact of disasters on non-communicable diseases (NCD). Traditionally in the disaster setting public health activities have focused on communicable diseases, however, the actual risk is low, particularly in developed countries (Watson, Gayer et al. 2007). Population ageing and an increase in life expectancy have contributed to a “disease transition” at the population level to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) (The Sphere Project 2011). Prominent among these are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, mental health conditions, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, nervous system disorders and kidney diseases (AIHW 2004). This “disease transition” has imposed major burdens on health care resources since they are time intensive and costly to treat, which has implications for health and disaster systems (Connell and Lea 2002; AIHW 2013; Murray, Vos et al. 2013).

When components of public health infrastructure (PHI) are damaged or weakened, those most vulnerable, such as people with NCDs are at the greatest risk (Jacob, Mawson et al. 2008). PHI includes staff, medications, equipment, services, housing, water, food, waste and sanitation (Boufford, Lee et al. 2001; Baker, Potter et al. 2005; Commonwealth of Australia 2008; Creswell 2013).  People with NCDs are vulnerable and need PHI to be maintained to prevent excess illness (The Sphere Project, 2011).

The vital role of PHI in mitigating the risk of disasters on NCDs, and the broader public, highlights the need to consider refocusing disaster management for the 21st Century. Environmental health professionals should have an integral role in achieving this by mitigating and addressing the key risks within the existing capacities. This would be achieved by categorizing PHI as primary, secondary or tertiary based on modern disease priorities and using this information to inform disaster management systems and/or reform business models.

This session explores this new idea, the challenges going forward and discover how these can be addressed. Ultimately, providing a unique opportunity for delegates to discuss and debate how the environmental health profession can address the challenges of NCDs and PHI in the disaster setting.