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Developing the role of emergency physicians in humanitarian assistance and disaster response
  1. Najeeb Rahman


Objective To review and summarise information from Reliefweb (information website hosted by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) regarding medical response during the first 2 weeks following Pakistan Earthquake of 2005, and the Haiti Earthquake of 2010. This information, used in conjunction with personal experiences, will demonstrate the value that emergency physicians can contribute as part of a disaster response team during humanitarian aid efforts.

Methods All situation reports authored by the WHO (who have lead responsibility in coordinating the health response during a disaster) which were published on Reliefweb during the first 2 weeks following the relevant earthquakes were selected. These reports were screened for information relating to numbers of deaths, injuries and illness, as well as number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs)/aid groups participating in efforts, in addition to operational health facilities and capacities.

Results Summary of the reports demonstrate the rapid increase in patient numbers and NGO participation, as well as the challenges of coordination, communication, resourcing and planning, in addition to appropriate patient management. These findings help to outline the skills required to participate and respond to such crises, many of which constitute part of emergency medicine practice.

Conclusion Volunteer participation by doctors during the first few weeks following such disasters continues. However, such participation occurs in an ad-hoc fashion, with many working through a variety of NGOs, but without appropriate coordination and relevant basic training.

The College of Emergency Medicine is well placed to support such efforts. This could initially be done by establishing a working group under the auspices of the College, whose role would be support the skills training of doctors wishing to volunteer, as well as work with other associations, colleges, NGOs and Government, so as to better respond to such disasters in the future, with a consolidated role for emergency physicians.

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