Health care volunteers can enhance their effectiveness at the time of disasters by preparing for the calamity before it occurs and thinking critically about their ability to respond, says a new research.
The outpouring of medical volunteers who responded to the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti in January provides a roadmap for health care providers during future disasters, according to the authors of a New England Journal of Medicine "Perspectives" piece.
Thousands of doctors and nurses stepped up to help following the quake, but many were frustrated by difficulties connecting with a system that could immediately take advantage of their skills in the disaster zone.
But lead author Raina Merchant, MD, an emergency physician and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said that volunteers can enhance their effectiveness by preparing for a disaster before it occurs and thinking critically about their ability to respond.
Merchant and her colleagues' recommendations for health care workers who wish to volunteer during global disasters, include, seeking formal training in disaster medicine to prepare for working with limited resources under hazardous conditions.
Also, volunteers should register with existing volunteer organizations, which often offer specialized training and advance verification of credentials and licensure to speed deployment to needy areas.
Having a clear understanding of what working in the disaster area will require, from working in severe temperatures with poor sanitation and risk of violent crime and exposure to infectious diseases, is important.
Underlying medical conditions and the emotional challenges of witnessing extreme pain and suffering of victims are also important considerations.
Seeking counsel from travel medicine experts who can provide advice and access to immunizations, prophylactic medications, and education on protection from infections including HIV, tuberculosis, Hepatitis A and mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue is quite significant.
The authors also urge volunteers to consider where in the disaster cycle their skills would be most appropriate, and to be mindful of the need to support relief efforts even after the world's attention has turned to other news.