Closing the gaps in emergency care

There are gaping holes in the UAE's ability to respond to emergencies. Residents also have a role to play in being more educated and more aware of how to respond.

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Emergency assistance may be just three digits away, but for reasons that are hard to explain - and impossible to accept - 999, 998, and 997 remain difficult concepts for many.

A new YouGov Siraj survey, as The National reported yesterday, finds that many residents - a third of all respondents - don't know the number to call for police, ambulance or fire services. Worse, few are able to help themselves in an emergency.

Take choking. Only one-fifth of those responding to the survey said they would be able to deal with a choking victim. The Heimlich Manoeuvre, a basic technique to clear a blocked airway, is taught to many around the world. But in the UAE, just 21 per cent of respondents expressed confidence that they could help someone who was choking.

A lack of general first aid skills among residents is another gaping hole. Schools do not consistently teach emergency rescue techniques and many don't have trained professionals on staff capable of assisting either.

Safety officials are understandably unnerved by the findings. Col Ali al Dhaheri, the head of police operations in Abu Dhabi, says "it is impossible" to understand why people don't know how to call for help in crisis. "The results are shocking," he said.

Shocking, but not entirely surprising. Clearly, more attention must be paid to publicising emergency services, training residents and promoting safety procedures. Sadly, not even government agencies charged with protecting the public are fully prepared. On the homepage of the Abu Dhabi Police's English language website, for instance, there is no mention of the police emergency number, 999.

Creating a culture of safety and preparedness is the responsibility of all residents, not only governments. Heads of households must protect those under their roofs. Fire safety, for instance, means stocking a working fire extinguisher in the home, something most residents overlook.

More importantly, though, efforts must be made to educate people on basic life-saving procedures. Only with more information and better skills will needless deaths be averted.