Photo credited to Jen Dessinger

The Hospital Association of South Africa’s (HASA) 2017 Conference at the Cape Town International Conference Centre, from 25 – 27 September, will open with the author of ‘Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital’, Dr Sheri Fink, recounting the tragedy that took place at a New Orleans hospital when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.

The New York Times in its review of the book recounts the harrowing unfolding events: “Floodwaters rose in the Uptown streets surrounding Memorial Medical Center, where hundreds of people slowly realised that they were stranded. The power grid failed, toilets overflowed, stench-filled corridors went dark. Diesel generators gave partial electricity. Hospital staff members smashed windows to circulate air. Gunshots could be heard, echoing in the city. Two stabbing victims turned up at this hospital, which was on life support itself, and were treated.

By Day 4 of the hurricane, the generators had conked out. 52 patients in an intensive care wing lay in sweltering darkness; only a few were able to walk. The doctors and nurses, beyond exhaustion, wondered how many could survive.

When evacuations were done, 45 patients had not made it out alive.”

The book has been described by the UK-based newspaper, The Guardian, as a “provocative and gripping read.”

Dr Fink, who writes as a correspondent for the New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for her work in examining the hospital as a “microcosm” of the larger failures that assailed New Orleans during Katrina, “with compromised physical structure, compromised operating systems, compromised individuals. And also instances of heroism,” according to The Guardian.

“We could think of no more fitting way to open the conference (which for the first time starts in the evening on a public holiday), than to invite Dr Fink and delegates to both share the drama of what happened during those awful days, and the learnings the tragedy offers all of us who are committed to providing healthcare services. After all, with climate change and other factors changing the very fabric of everything we know, who is to say we in this country will not face similar challenges in the future,” said Executive Head of Public Affairs at HASA, Mark Peach.

The remainder of the conference will focus on several key themes intended to contribute positively to healthcare reform and will feature speakers from India, Brazil, Kenya, the UK and South Africa.

Conference registration will open earlier on the same day, Monday 25 September, at the Cape Town International Conference Centre, with Dr Fink’s talk commencing at 7pm after refreshments, networking and a welcome by the MEC for Health in the Western Cape. Her talk will be followed by a question and answer session and book signing (the book will be on sale on site courtesy of Wordsworths).

Conference booking are already open at where speaker biographies, the provisional programme, and other relevant details are available.

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