Combining Dedicated Online Training and Apprenticeships in the Field to Assist in Professionalization of Humanitarian Aid Workers: a 2-year Pilot Project for Anesthesia and Intensive Care Residents Working in Resource Constrained and Low-income Countries


As a result of the gaps in humanitarian response highlighted by several reports, the international community called for an increased professionalization of humanitarian aid workers. This paper describes a pilot project by an Italian university and a non-profit, non-governmental organization to implement a medical apprenticeship in low-income countries during Anesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine residencies.

Before deployment, participants were required to complete a dedicated online training course about safety and security in the field, principles of anesthesia at the district hospital level, emergency and essential surgical care, essentials of medical treatment in resource-constrained environments and psychological support in emergencies.

At the end of the program, a qualitative self-evaluation questionnaire administered to participants highlighted how the project allowed the participants to advance their professional skills when working in a low-resource environment, while also mastering their adapting skills and the ability to interact and cooperate with local healthcare personnel. The project also proved to be a means for personal growth, making these experiences a recommendation for all residents as a necessary step for the professionalization of healthcare personnel involved in humanitarian aid.

Disaster-Driven Evacuation and Medication Loss: a Systematic Literature Review


AIM: The aim of this systematic literature review was to identify the extent and implications of medication loss and the burden of prescription refill on medical relief teams following extreme weather events and other natural hazards.

METHOD: The search strategy followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA). Key health journal databases (Medline, Embase, PsycINFO, Maternity and Infant Care, and Health Management Information Consortium (HMIC)) were searched via the OvidSP search engine. Search terms were identified by consulting MeSH terms. The inclusion criteria comprised articles published from January 2003 to August 2013, written in English and containing an abstract. The exclusion criteria included abstracts for conferences or dissertations, book chapters and articles written in a language other than English. A total of 70 articles which fulfilled the inclusion criteria were included in this systematic review.

RESULTS: All relevant information was collated regarding medication loss, prescription loss and refills, and medical aids loss which indicated a significant burden on the medical relief teams. Data also showed the difficulty in filling prescriptions due to lack of information from the evacuees. People with chronic conditions are most at risk when their medication is not available. This systematic review also showed that medical aids such as eye glasses, hearing aids as well as dental treatment are a high necessity among evacuees.

DISCUSSION: This systematic review revealed that a considerable number of patients lose their medication during evacuation, many lose essential medical aids such as insulin pens and many do not bring prescriptions with them when evacuated.. Since medication loss is partly a responsibility of evacuees, understanding the impact of medication loss may lead to raising awareness and better preparations among the patients and health care professionals. People who are not prepared could have worse outcomes and many risk dying when their medication is not available.

Preventing Malnutrition in Post-Conflict, Food Insecure Settings: A Case Study from South Sudan


Background: Decades of civil conflict compound the challenges of food insecurity in South Sudan and contribute to persistent, high levels of child malnutrition. As efforts to prevent child malnutrition continue, there is a critical need for strategies that effectively supplement the diets of pregnant women and young children in transitional, highly food insecure settings like South Sudan.

Methods: This mixed-methods case study of four communities in South Sudan reports on the diets of children under 2 years of age and explores household-level factors including household size, intrahousehold food allocation practices, and responses to scarcity that may have significant impact on the effectiveness of strategies relying on household ration distribution to supplement the diets of pregnant women and children under 2 years of age.

Results: Participants reported experiencing increased scarcity as a result of prolonged drought and household sizes enlarged by the high volume of returning refugees. Although communities were receiving monthly household rations through a non-emergency food assistance program, most households had exhausted rations less than 30 days after receipt. Results showed that more than one half of children 12-17 months and one third of children 18-23 months consumed diets consisting of fewer than 4 food groups in the last week. Intrahousehold food allocation patterns give children first priority at meal times even in times of scarcity, yet adult women, including pregnant women, have last priority.

Discussion: These findings suggest that distribution of supplementary household rations will likely be insufficient to effectively supplement the diets of young children and pregnant women in particular. In light of the multiple contextual challenges experienced by households in transitional, food-insecure settings, these findings support recommendations to take a context-specific approach to food assistance programming, in which considerations of intrahousehold food allocation patterns and broader cultural and environmental factors inform program design. Incorporating assessments of intrahousehold food allocation patterns as part of needs assessments for food assistance and voucher or cash transfer programs may contribute to more effective, context specific programming.

Rapid Health Needs Assessment Experience in 11 August 2012 East Azerbaijan Earthquakes: A Qualitative Study


Introduction: In disasters, health care providers need to find out the essential needs of the affected populations through Rapid Health Needs Assessment (RHNA). In East Azerbaijan earthquakes, a rapid assessment was performed by the provincial health system. The main purpose of this study was to explore the RHNA challenges.

Methods: In this qualitative study (Grounded theory), data was collected through semi-structured interviews with purposely selected health care workers. The data collection process continued until data saturation. All interviews were recorded and then transcribed. The Colaizzi’s descriptive method was used to analyze the data.

Results: The themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews were: 1) Logistic problems 2) Lack of RHNA tools 3) Inherent difficulty of RHNA in disaster situations 4) Lack of preparedness and 5) Lack of coordination between different organizations. These challenges result in inapplicable use of RHNA results.

Conclusion: The most important challenge in this RHNA process was the lack of East Azerbaijan health center preparedness. Although they were familiar with the importance of RHNA, they did not have any plans for conducting RHNA.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Flooding: Changes in Risk Before, During and After Flooding Require Appropriate Public Health Interventions


While many of the acute risks posed by flooding and other disasters are well characterised, the burden of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and the wide range of ways in which this avoidable poisoning can occur around flooding episodes is poorly understood, particularly in Europe. The risk to health from CO may continue over extended periods of time after flooding and different stages of disaster impact and recovery are associated with different hazards.

A review of the literature was undertaken to describe the changing risk of CO poisoning throughout flooding/disaster situations. The key objectives were to identify published reports of flood-related carbon monoxide incidents that have resulted in a public health impact and to categorise these according to Noji’s Framework of Disaster Phases (Noji 1997); to summarise and review carbon monoxide incidents in Europe associated with flooding in order to understand the burden of CO poisoning associated with flooding and power outages; and to summarise those strategies in Europe which aim to prevent CO poisoning that have been published and/or evaluated.
The review identified 23 papers which met its criteria. The team also reviewed and discussed relevant government and non-government guidance documents. This paper presents a summary of the outcomes and recommendations from this review of the literature.

Papers describing poisonings can be considered in terms of the appliance/source of CO or the circumstances leading to poisoning.The specific circumstances identified which lead to CO poisoning during flooding and other disasters vary according to disaster phase. Three key situations were identified in which flooding can lead to CO poisoning; pre-disaster, emergency/recovery phase and post-recovery/delayed phase. These circumstances are described in detail with case studies.
This classification of situations is important as different public health messages are more appropriate at different phases of a disaster. The burden of disease from poisoning caused by each potential source and at each phase of a disaster is different. CO poisoning is not compulsory and deaths associated with a flood but delayed for a period of months, for example due to a damaged boiler, may never be attributed to the flood as surveillance often ends once the floodwaters recede. The problem of under–reporting is crucial to our understanding of flooding-related poisoning.
The indoor use of portable generators, cooking and heating appliances designed for use outdoors during periods of loss of mains power or gas is a particular problem. In the recovery phase, equipment for pumping, dehumidifying and drying out of properties poses a new risk. In the long term, mortality and morbidity associated with the renewed use of boilers which may have suffered covert damage in flooding is recognised but very difficult to quantify.
Papers evaluating interventions were not found and where literature exists on prevention of CO poisoning in disaster situations, it is from the USA.

This paper for the first time describes the different risks of CO poisoning posed by the different phases of a disaster. There is a specific need to recognise that any room in a building can harbour a CO emitting appliance in flooding; wood burners and rarely used chimney flues may become particularly problematic following a flood.

1) Public health workers and policy makers should consider establishing toolkits using the CDC toolkit approach; the acceptability of any intervention must be evaluated further to guide informed policy.

2) CO poisoning must form part of syndromic and event based surveillance systems for flooding and should be included in measures of the health impact of flooding.

3) CO monitors in the domestic environment should be sited not only in proximity to known CO emitters but also in locations where mobile or short term CO emitting appliances may be placed, including woodburners and infrequently used fireplaces.

Challenging Operations: An Ethical Framework to Assist Humanitarian Aid Workers in their Decision-making Processes


Introduction: This paper aims to raise awareness regarding ethical issues in the context of humanitarian action, and to offer a framework for systematically and effectively addressing such issues.

Methods: Several cases highlight ethical issues that humanitarian aid workers are confronted with at different levels over the course of their deployments. The first case discusses a situation at a macro-level concerning decisions being made at the headquarters of a humanitarian organization. The second case looks at meso-level issues that need to be solved at a country or regional level. The third case proposes an ethical dilemma at the micro-level of the individual patient-provider relationship.

Discussion: These real-life cases have been selected to illustrate the ethical dimension of conflicts within the context of humanitarian action that might remain unrecognized in everyday practice. In addition, we propose an ethical framework to assist humanitarian aid workers in their decision-making process. The framework draws on the principles and values that guide humanitarian action and public health ethics more generally. Beyond identifying substantive core values, the framework also includes a ten-step process modelled on tools used in the clinical setting that promotes a transparent and clear decision-making process and improves the monitoring and evaluation of aid interventions. Finally, we recommend organizational measures to implement the framework effectively.

Conclusion: This paper uses a combination of public health/clinical ethics concepts and practices and applies them to the decision-making challenges encountered in relief operations in the humanitarian aid context.

Availability and Diversity of Training Programs for Responders to International Disasters and Complex Humanitarian Emergencies


Introduction: Volunteers and members of relief organizations increasingly seek formal training prior to international field deployment. This paper identifies training programs for personnel responding to international disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies, and provides concise information – if available- regarding the founding organization, year established, location, cost, duration of training, participants targeted, and the content of each program.

Methods: An environmental scan was conducted through a combination of a peer-reviewed literature search and an open Internet search for the training programs. Literature search engines included EMBASE, Cochrane, Scopus, PubMed, Web of Science databases using the search terms “international,” “disaster,” “complex humanitarian emergencies,” “training,” and “humanitarian response”. Both searches were conducted between January 2, 2013 and September 12, 2013.

Results: 14 peer-reviewed articles mentioned or described eight training programs, while open Internet search revealed 13 additional programs. In total, twenty-one training programs were identified as currently available for responders to international disasters and CHE. Each of the programs identified has different goals and objectives, duration, expenses, targeted trainees and modules. Each of the programs identified has different goals and objectives, duration, expenses, targeted trainees and modules. Seven programs (33%) are free of charge and four programs (19%) focus on the mental aspects of disasters. The mean duration for each training program is 5 to 7 days. Fourteen of the trainings are conducted in multiple locations (66%), two in Cuba (9%) and two in Australia (9%). The cost-reported in US dollars- ranges from $100 to $2,400 with a mean cost of $480 and a median cost of $135. Most of the programs are open to the public, but some are only available by invitation only, such as the International Mobilization Preparation for Action (IMPACT) and the United Nations Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) Field Course.

Conclusions: A variety of training programs are available for responders to disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies. These programs vary in their objectives, audiences, modules, geographical locations, eligibility and financial cost. This paper presents an overview of available programs and serves as a resource for potential responders interested in capacity-building training prior to deployment.

Funding Based on Needs? A Study on the Use of Needs Assessment Data by a Major Humanitarian Health Assistance Donor in its Decisions to Allocate Funds


Background: International humanitarian assistance is essential for disaster-affected populations, particularly in resource scarce settings. To target such assistance, needs assessments are required. According to internationally endorsed principles, donor governments should provide funding for humanitarian assistance based on need.

Aim: The aim of this study is to explore a major donor’s use of needs assessment data in decision-making for allocations of funds for health-related humanitarian assistance contributions.

Setting: This is a case study of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), a major and respected international donor of humanitarian assistance.

Methods: To explore Sida’s use of needs assessment data in practice for needs-based allocations, we reviewed all decision documents and assessment memoranda for humanitarian assistance contributions for 2012 using content analysis; this was followed by interviews with key personnel at Sida.

Results: Our document analysis found that needs assessment data was not systematically included in Sida’s assessment memoranda and decision documents. In the interviews, we observed various descriptions of the concept of needs assessments, the importance of contextual influences as well as previous collaborations with implementing humanitarian assistance organizations. Our findings indicate that policies guiding funding decisions on humanitarian assistance need to be matched with available needs assessment data and that terminologies and concepts have to be clearly defined.

Conclusion: Based on the document analysis and the interviews, it is unclear how well Sida used needs assessment data for decisions to allocate funds. However, although our observations show that needs assessments are seldom used in decision making, Sida’s use of needs assessments has improved compared to a previous study. To improve project funds allocations based on needs assessment data, it will be critical to develop distinct frameworks for allocation distributions based on needs assessment and clear definitions, measurements and interpretations of needs.

Key words: Needs assessment, humanitarian assistance, disasters, donor decision-making

Coping with Disaster: General Practitioners’ Perspectives on the Impact of the Canterbury Earthquakes


Aim – To explore the challenges for general practitioners (GPs) following the 2010/2011 Canterbury earthquakes and describe how these were met.
Methods – Qualitative study using semi-structured interviews with eight GPs from the Christchurch area exploring their experiences.
Results – The interviews revealed that the GPs faced a range of challenges both in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes and in the following months. These included dealing with an increased and changed workload, and managing personal concerns. The GPs reflected on their coping behaviour and how their professional practice had changed as a result.
Conclusions – All GPs reported significant increases in workload raising questions about the need for coordination of locum support. GPs often found themselves working outside their area of accustomed expertise especially in relation to patients needing financial aid. GPs identified a number of coping behaviours though some only in hindsight. Greater awareness of self-care strategies would benefit GPs responding to disasters.

Health Sector Initiatives for Disaster Risk Management in Ethiopia: A Narrative Review


Background: Natural and man-made disasters are prevailing in Ethiopia mainly due to drought, floods, landslides, earthquake, volcanic eruptions, and disease epidemics. Few studies so far have critically reviewed about medical responses to disasters and little information exists pertaining to the initiatives being undertaken by health sector from the perspective of basic disaster management cycle. This article aimed to review emergency health responses to disasters and other related interventions which have been undertaken in the health sector.

Methods: Relevant documents were identified by searches in the websites of different sectors in Ethiopian and international non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies. Using selected keywords, articles were also searched in the data bases of Medline, CINAHL, Scopus, and Google Scholar. In addition, pertinent articles from non-indexed journals were referred to.

Results: Disaster management system in Ethiopia focused on response, recovery, and rehabilitation from 1974 to 1988; while the period between 1988 and 1993 marked the transition phase towards a more comprehensive approach. Theoretically, from 1993 onwards, the disaster management system has fully integrated the mitigation, prevention, and preparedness phases into already existing response and recovery approach, particularly for drought. This policy has changed the emergency response practices and the health sector has taken some initiatives in the area of emergency health care. Hence, drought early warning system, therapeutic feeding program in hospitals, health centers and posts in drought prone areas to manage promptly acute malnutrition cases have all been put in place. In addition, public health disease emergencies have been responded to at all levels of health care system.

Conclusions: Emergency health responses to drought and its ramifications such as acute malnutrition and epidemics have become more comprehensive in the context of basic disaster management phases; and impacts of drought and epidemics seem to be declining. However, the remaining challenge is to address disasters arising from other hazards such as flooding in terms of mitigation, prevention, preparedness and integrating them in the health care system.

Key Words: Disaster, Emergency Health, Health System, Ethiopia