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