Image: INEM
Image: INEM

Portugal to help run largest field hospital in world

RescEU EMT “should be operational by mid-2024”

The largest pan-European field hospital, which includes seven EU countries and Turkey, was presented in Cascais, Lisbon, today – and may (need to) be triggered during the fight against fires in Portugal, from 2024, writes Lusa.

“There is the concern – as has happened in previous years – we may have to resort to this European mechanism for civil protection, which allows Portugal, effectively, to have the solidarity of other European countries and thus (…) can implement on the ground a more robust response capacity,” Luís Meira, president of INEM, Portugal’s national institute of medical emergency, told the State news agency.

The EU has directly allocated €106 million for implementation of this consortium, which covers Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania and Turkey, and is aimed at improving the European civil protection mechanism for medical emergencies following major natural or man-made disasters.

According to Meira, Portugal has recently shown a “spirit of solidarity”; INEM has gone ahead with joint missions, which provide support to other countries.

“The countries’ response capacity is not sufficient to respond to situations that often do not respect the countries’ borders and, therefore, being part of this project is fundamental for Portugal, because we are contributing to a spirit of solidarity and cooperation with other European countries that have agreed to join this consortium,” he said.

Contributing to strengthening the response capacity of the EU and Portugal in the face of “violent scenarios”, Luís Meira explained that Portugal has been certified since 2018 as a country that can make up the EMT (standing for Emergency Medical Team).

It was on the basis of this certification that Portugal took part in supporting Mozambique following the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai. “That is the best example” of this kind of cooperation, he said, adding that “probably already in 2024 we will start to see the first achievements on the ground of this project”.

“Portugal will have access, through INEM, to around €6.7 million for specific funding for two of the capabilities that will be assigned. In addition to the EMT, we will have a cell specialised in transport and another cell specialised in oxygen production that (…) will provide a response and create the possibility of having (…) one of the largest field hospitals that can intervene on the ground worldwide,” he went on.

The head of the WHO network of emergency medical teams, Flavio Salio, said that the consortium was created to “strengthen national capacity and unite countries” to maximise the civil protection service.

“The expectation is that countries will strengthen their capacity to respond in domestic emergencies and then come together for a joint response,” he said.

Europe’s Director of Emergency Management, Hans Das, added that “in practice, this field hospital should be operational by mid-2024, as part of the rescue mechanism and as a strategic point that we are developing at a European level.” Beyond the allocation of €106 million from the (EU) Civil Protection budget (…) We are also investing in doctors (…) and other kinds of mechanisms with a budget of €2 billion”, he added

Hans Das warned that, “with climate change (…) there will be more natural disasters in the world, including floods, droughts and fires“, stressing the field hospital “is very necessary”.

For his part, the secretary of state of Romania’s interior ministry, Raed Arafat, indicated that this concept has already been tested in his country in 2018, also with EU support.

“We saw that it is possible to work together, it is possible to create a strong [reaction] capacity with several countries. (…) In the pandemic, four field hospitals operated in Romania alone, three with military and one with Civil Protection. We saw their impact when we had distressing situations with many patients and no space for them,” he explained.

Considering the field hospital indispensable, Raed Arafat said Romania has learned a lot including during the pandemic, and since in receiving refugees because of the war in Ukraine.  

The project will consist of three emergency medical type 2 (EMT2) teams and will have the capacity to provide urgent medical care, including surgical capacity, 24 hours a day.

There will also be 17 teams specialised in the areas of Intensive Care, treatment of burn patients, advanced diagnostics, maternal and child support, orthopedic treatment, rehabilitation, patient transport, laboratory support and telecommunications.