In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Dr. Robert Verbist, President, International Maritime Health Association, and part of the team that put together the new International Medical Guide for Seafarers and Fishers, talks about their new medical guide for seafarers.
onsidering that work and life at sea is quite challenging, seafarers should be encouraged to seek help if they feel they are struggling. The new medical guide includes a full chapter on this topic, which other previous guides had ignored, Dr Verbist mentions, calling ship operators to ensure access to medical care onboard and provide the crew with medical guidelines.
SAFETY4SEA: Tell us a few words about your recently published medical guide for seafarers ; How does it manage to address seafarers’ health issues?
Robert Verbist : The International Medical Guide for Seafarers and Fishers is an absolutely optimal book containing the best knowledge put together in the most modern way for seafarers today. Within the guide, appropriate procedures are explained in a practical format aiming to ensure that a seafarer receives the right advice and medical care on the vessel, so that there is a much better chance of a positive outcome. As a port physician in Antwerp for nearly 40 years, I have seen the effects of seafarers who unfortunately did not receive prompt care on board. As a member of the team who put this book together, I am very proud of the publication. The International Medical Guide for Seafarers and Fishers comprises three sections: 1) the 600-page medical guide containing latest medical knowledge by way of clear and practical explanations of assessments, treatments, and procedures, with chapters devoted to choking, bleeding, chest pain, seizures, strokes, back injuries, wounds, burns, and more; 2) the Ship’s Medicine Chest, a detailed annex listing all the different medications and equipment that should be carried on board with international comparisons of medications and the amounts; 3) ten removable action cards that can be carried anywhere on the ship to immediately assess an emergency medical situation.
S4S: What is the reason behind the development of your guide? Have you noticed any particular needs, key topics/ issues with regards to seafarers’ health?
R.B.: Seafarers are among the most isolated people on earth when it comes to medical care and this book helps them to go through procedures in the correct way. It covers all injuries, illnesses, and health issues experienced on ships and fishing vessels, from physical conditions to mental health. International Chamber of Shipping led the effort to produce this book in conjunction with International Maritime Health Association and International Transport Federation. The guide was reviewed by a very international group of maritime medical specialists and international non-medical seafarers, and this was to assure that the language and the terminology used in the book is an international language and international terminology. Anything we would like to change or improve regarding health care of seafarers needs to be done in this international context. In addition, research at the start of the project showed that many ships’ medicine chests were out of date or that medicines were not available in certain regions, so great care was taken to create a Ship’s Medicine Chest that is as up to date and widely understood as possible.
S4S: What issues related to seafarers’ health and crew welfare should the industry further consider to enhance working and living conditions onboard?
R.B.: Having good medical response onboard immediately after an event is extremely important, not only for ensuring a positive outcome for the ill or injured person but also for the morale of every seafarer on board. If they know there is a medical officer with a good medical guide, they can hope for the best. It is also critical to address mental health issues on board as these can be very serious. Working and living at sea can be stressful and everyone on board should be aware of the signs that a seafarer is suffering a mental health problem. Seafarers should be encouraged to seek help if they feel they are struggling. The new medical guide includes a full chapter on this topic, which other previous guides had ignored.
S4S: Which best practices would you recommend from your perspective to promote and ensure good health onboard? What initiatives related to seafarers’ health would you like to see?
R.B.: Making sure the medical officer onboard has the most up to date guide is a big step in ensuring good health onboard in care of an emergency. Training and carriage requirements on medical guides are provided in relevant instruments of IMO and ILO, respectively. In terms of everyday (non-emergency) efforts to promote good health, it is a matter of emphasising good eating habits, good diet, exercise, and overall attention to making sure seafarers have support and a good connection to other seafarers on board as well as friends and family at home.
S4S: Do you have any projects/ plans that you would like to share with industry stakeholders?
R.B.: International Chamber of Shipping is actively working with maritime officials and flag state authorities around the world to bring the International Medical Guide for Seafarers and Fishers to their attention, in the hopes that as many seafarers as possible will receive the most up to date medical advice.
S4S: What is your key message to operators with regards to crew welfare?
R.B.: The importance of having access to medical care on board ships cannot be emphasised enough and medical guidelines are vital for ensuring proper knowledge and rapid response in medical emergencies. I encourage every ship owner and operator to make sure they have the new International Medical Guide for Seafarers and Fishers.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.