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Hospitals not ready for World Cup disaster: doctor

By Zaheer Cassim

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's public hospitals are completely unprepared for a disaster like a crowd stampede at the World Cup, a FIFA adviser said.

"Hospital disaster plans are actually a disaster," said Professor Efraim Kramer, a FIFA medical officer and adviser to the local organizing committee.

Kramer, head of emergency medicine at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University, told a doctors conference on Wednesday that public hospitals had "absolutely no idea" how to implement disaster management plans because they had not been tested.

In contrast, Kramer said private hospitals, some of the best in the world, were better prepared and had good disaster plans. The South African government says public hospitals would handle at least 70 percent of the World Cup workload.

In the case of a disaster, public hospitals are likely to be the nearest to stadiums.

Kramer said South African hospitals had failed to upgrade their general facilities, emergency departments and disaster training sufficiently for the World Cup.

A spokesman for South Africa's Health Ministry had no immediate comment on Kramer's remarks.

Some 350,000 foreigners are expected in South Africa for the month-long World Cup starting on June 11.

Last April, South African doctors went on strike to back demands for higher pay and better working conditions. Doctors received a salary increase but say public hospitals are still under-resourced.

"The hospitals are what they are today. There is no way we can change the whole health structure just for four weeks," Kramer said.

More than 40 people died in 2001 at Johannesburg's Ellis Park stadium when the crowd stampeded during a local match. There have been fatal stampedes in several other African countries over the last decade.

Ellis Park is one of the World Cup stadiums but it has been refurbished for the World Cup. Like all 10 venues in South Africa, including five new stadiums, it had to conform to strict FIFA requirements for crowd staging areas and other safety measures.

(Editing by Barry Moody)