The evaluations following the Tsunami that affected 12 countries (December 2004) and the earthquakes in Bam, Iran (2003), and in Pakistan (2005) offered valuable lessons for public health preparedness against all types of risks (natural, complex, or technological) in all countries (regardless their level of development).
The lessons learned, needs assessments, effectiveness of external life-saving assistance, disease surveillance and control, as well as donations management, were reviewed.
Although hundreds of surveys or studies were conducted, the needs assessments were partial and uncoordinated. The findings often were not shared by individual agencies.
The evaluations in each of the three disasters point to some additional issues:
1. Foreign mobile hospitals rarely arrived in time for immediate trauma care. Existing international guidelines for the use of field hospitals often were ignored and must be updated and promoted. Local and neighboring facilities are best at providing immediate, life-saving care;
2. Occassionally, the risk of epidemics was grossly overestimated by the agencies and the mass media. Surveillance and improved routine control programs work without resorting to costly, improvised immunization campaigns of doubtless value. Improving or re-establishing water and sanitation must be the first priority;
3. Health donations were not always appropriate, nor did they follow the World Health Organization guidelines. The costly destruction of inappropriate donations was a recurrent problem; and
4. Medical volunteers from within the affected country were abounding, but did not benefit from the external logistical and material support. The international community should provide logistical and material support before sending expatriate teams that are unfamiliar with the area and its health problems.
Investing in the preparedness of the national health services and communities should become a priority for disaster-prone countries and those assisting them in their development.