Dial 911 (or 999 or 112 or 15…): Emergency Services Worldwide

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My Facebook feed right now is a stream of photographic evidence that my friends are enjoying spring break – Petra, Bali, Prague, Kenya. Of late, I have wondered: what happens if you have an emergency in, say, Petra? This dreary thought began recently after I witnessed someone having a seizure in public. I was on the phone to Hong Kong emergency services within seconds, and therein came my second fright: the woman who answered could not understand me in English, and I do not speak Cantonese. Though a police station was across the street, it took twelve minutes for an officer to get to the scene, and longer for the ambulance to arrive.

Thankfully, the man seemed to recover by the time we left his side (there was a group of us looking after him as we waited for the medics), but I was shaken. The U.S. Department of State webpage notes that emergency service response times for police, fire, and ambulances in Hong Kong are good. And medical care here, in my experience, is excellent. So, if it took fifteen minutes to get an ambulance to a well-known public location in a city with developed infrastructure, what can we expect elsewhere?

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve been thinking about this. I grew up traveling. I lived in Moscow, back when it was part of the Cold War Soviet Union and we could barely get groceries much less proper medical care. I’ve been all over the world, often by myself, including to remote mountain locations where the closest shelter was hours away by foot, and hospitals must be reached by helicopter. I thought I was essentially immune to travel scares.

However, when it comes to accessing treatment for a major medical emergency, I am starting to second-guess my carefree approach. (Full disclosure: likely this has to do with becoming a parent, and now being responsible for a life more precious than my own). From language barriers, to cell phone service, to paramedic training and response times, to hospital quality, there is a lot of variation in the ability to access emergency care when you travel. Diversity of experience is a valuable element of living abroad, but how much diversity is worth a compromise in health and safety?

Do medical services play a role in deciding where you live or travel? Where have you had a particularly positive or negative experience with emergency care?

2 thoughts on “Dial 911 (or 999 or 112 or 15…): Emergency Services Worldwide”

  1. This is food for thought, definitely. It’s a reminder once again about how certain aspects of living internationally can be alarming. Common sense when it comes to things like health or even just basic day to day activities are not necessarily universal. Better to be prepared and clear because we’re all operating on different frames of reference.

    1. Dear Norbyah,

      Different frames of reference – that’s a good way to put it. This is another reminder that our assumptions of the world, like you say, are not necessarily universal.

      I find myself balancing between adhering to my own frame of reference, and the interest in seeing others’. We, as international educators, often embrace different, new, even unsettling. Emergency services is one aspect of travel that seems less like a cultural difference, and more like a lack of infrastructure or resources. Health is a cultural value pretty much everywhere, so the ability to receive prompt and effective care in the case of emergencies represents privilege, perhaps, more than culture.

      Thank you for reading, and for your comment!



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