Recovering From Disaster
A look at innovative programs that are helping communities recover from terrorist attacks, epidemics, hurricanes and more
This past Sunday, America somberly marked the 10th anniversary of September 11. Unfortunately, large disasters like this, both man-made and natural, are not rare around the world and they can take many forms: war, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, hurricanes, epidemics. One thing that these events all share in common is that they can have significant immediate and long-terms effects on the local population (click here to see articles specifically discussing public health as it relates to September 11). So how do we cope and recover? Here are some innovative disaster responses, found in the CHMI database:
Contagious diseases can move frighteningly fast (see the recently released movie, Contagion) and if they aren’t dealt with quickly, they can rapidly get out of hand. Therefore, Rwanda developed a system called Phones for Health which allows health workers to use mobile phones to enter in patient data which is automatically uploaded to a central database. This not only improves tracking of health at the individual level, but also allows health officials to keep track of areas of concern when it come contagious diseases, thereby helping to predict potential epidemics. Alerta DISAMAR, implemented by the Peruvian Navy, also uses mobile phones to monitor disease outbreaks, allowing the Navy to put preventative and treatment measures in place early.
Living through a disaster can be a harrowing experience and survivors often suffer from issues ranging from general survivor’s guilt to severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nevertheless, accessing counseling services can be difficult, particularly in developing countries where many individuals are reluctant to seek help for their mental health conditions due to embarrassment, high cost, or simply because they do not know where they should go for help. In Indonesia, a country that has suffered a number of disasters including the 2002 Bali Bombings, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, many earthquakes and volcano eruptions, citizens can now overcome these barriers using E-counseling PULIH, a program that allows clients to reach live psychologists by emails, text and live chats such as Yahoo Messenger. For those who are not tech-savvy and do not own yahoo accounts, there are ready applications on PULIH’s website so the clients can access the services through the website.
Rebuilding Health Infrastructure
Sometimes, health infrastructure itself is wiped out by disasters, communities that were formerly served by health workers or clinics with few options. In 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami killed up to 600 mid-wives and destroyed medical, transportation and communication infrastructure. To make up for this lost infrastructure, World Vision distributed mobile phones to 223 midwives in Aceh Besar and developed an SMS system that allowed midwives to upload patients’ health information into a central database. The project also used the phones to facilitate communications between the midwives and obstetrician-gynecologists (OBGYNs), thus allowing newer mid-wives to provide higher quality care.
Many communities that suffered disasters years ago are only just beginning the road to recovery. If these communities are ever to fully recover, the health community will have to continue innovating to heal, rebuild and revive hope.