Background At 14:48 on 12 May 2008 an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 struck the Wenchuan area of Sichuan province, China. A decision to offer/receive UK medical assistance was agreed at a Sino/British political level and a medical team was despatched to the earthquake area.
Methods This study describes the team's experience during the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and the following 18 months, during which there have been joint developments in emergency medicine, disaster planning/preparedness and the management of spinal cord injury.
Results The long-term disability following sudden onset natural disaster and the wider impact on healthcare delivery may prove to be a greater burden to the country than the immediate medical needs, and, accordingly, emergency international aid may need to widen its focus. Although international teams usually arrive too late to support resuscitative measures, they can respond to specific requests for specialised assistance, for example plastic and reconstructive surgery to assist with the ongoing management of complex injury, relieve those who have worked continuously through the disaster, and when required maintain routine day-to-day services while local staff continue to manage the disaster. The timing of this does not necessarily need to be immediate.
Conclusions To maximise its impact, the team planned from the outset to build a relationship with Chinese colleagues that would lead to a sharing of knowledge and experience that would benefit major incident responses in both countries in the future. This has been established, and the linkage of emergency humanitarian assistance to longer term development should be considered by others the next time international emergency humanitarian assistance is contemplated.
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Team members: A D Redmond, A Mohammed, W Saeed, A Syed, H MacClennan, T Branfoot, L Reynolds, Dajue Wang, A Evans, R Dytor, J Houghton, T Healing, K Mackway-Jones.
Funding Provided by the FCO and DFID.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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