Database at a Glance: Innovations in Disaster Response

Millions of people around the world are injured, killed or left homeless as a result of natural disasters and outbreaks. Disasters leave significant damage to property and infrastructure affecting entire communities. Those who survive such disasters are often traumatized by the experience, both physically and emotionally.

Primary health care-focused programs like Last Mile Health and Possible Health, both participants in the CHMI Learning Exchange, were uniquely equipped and able to respond to disasters in their countries of operation. Last Mile Health's innovative approach to training and managing community health workers allowed the organization to continue providing quality primary care in remote areas of southeastern Liberia, while launching a comprehensive response to Ebola on the community and national levels. In Nepal, Possible Health's investments in infrastructure in rural areas enabled the organization to provide victims of the April 2015 earthquake with supplies and doctors.

In addition to primary care programs that have provided support to survivors of disaster, the Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI) profiles 32 programs in its database that focus exclusively on disaster response. Most of these programs are based in East Asia and provide mental health services. Common services that these programs provide include the provision of psychological counseling to disaster victims, and the use of ICT to track epidemics and diseases. 


Eighteen programs provide services to communities in the wake of disease outbreaks.  Of these, three programs monitor epidemics to prevent further spread of disease. ReliefWatch is a cloud-based medical supply and disease tracking platform that uses automated voice calls and simple mobile phones to reduce shortages of essential medicines in Honduras, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and Panama. The system provides real-time data to reduce medical stock-outs and expirations, and has the ability to track diseases to prevent an outbreak from turning into an epidemic.

Flood damage in Manila, Philippines 2012. Photo © AusAID

Surveillance in Post Extreme Emergencies and Disasters (SPEED) is a Philippines-based early warning disease surveillance system for post-disaster situations launched by the Department of Health and World Health Organization in 2010. Health workers in evacuation areas conduct consultations with patients, where they complete reporting forms and enter the information into the SPEED system using SMS.  SPEED then identifies potential disease outbreaks for health managers, local chief executives, and other individuals so they may take further action.

Photo right: Flood damage in Manila, Philippines 2012. Photo: AusAID


In Cambodia, Smart Mobile is a wireless operator that provides low-cost access to SMS applications, such as GeoChat, to the Ministry of Health and NGOs in order to respond to infectious disease outbreaks in a timely manner. GeoChat can be used by public health officials with smart phones to establish group chats, share reports of information from the field and send targeted alerts.


Twenty-one out of the 32 programs identified use mobile technology, such as telemedicine, to provide health services to disaster victims. One innovation profiled in CHMI’s database is AMD’s Dispatch Case, a light-weight, easily portable device containing several telemedicine peripherals. Volunteers use the device to connect with physicians in the U.S. who provide immediate medical consultations to disaster victims.  One organization in particular, Disaster Logistics Relief, has used the Dispatch Case to virtually connect survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 with US-based doctors.

“After the 2004 Tsunami, doctors in Arizona were able to track Tuberculosis from 8000 miles away,” said Randy Roberson, Co-Founder of Disaster Logistics Relief in a YouTube video.


Media Campaign PULIH, founded in 2003, plays a strategic role in promoting the mental health of the survivors of post-disaster and violent conflicts. The campaign trains media companies, journalists, and other mass media stakeholders about the repercussions of media coverage on the mental health of trauma victims. The campaign staff provides education on trauma recovery and strengthening the psychosocial health through mass media, including the internet, radio, magazines and newspaper. They also utilize social media to connect communities, activists and the general public together to promote safe mental health.


In Haiti, Microinsurance Catastrophe Risk Organization (MiCRO) Cholera Product works with microfinance institutions, like Fonkoze, to provide their clients with access to insurance to cover losses from catastrophic events, such as Cholera outbreaks. In Haiti, Fonkoze has already started making catastrophe coverage available to its 50,000 clients. The scheme ensures “real-time” payout once a pre-defined set of criteria is met (i.e. cholera-related hospital admissions, observable weather factors linked to cholera outbreaks, etc.)


Disasters strike every year. In April 2015, the earthquake in Nepal killed more than 9000 people. In 2014, the Ebola outbreak claimed over 11,000 lives in West Africa. In most cases, such disasters are difficult to predict, yet lead a trail of devastation in their wake. The 32 programs profiled in CHMI’s database serve as hope in many ways for survivors of disasters—they offer relief to some of the most vulnerable and displaced communities through use of ICT, micro-insurance, and/or consumer recovery mechanisms. CHMI will continue to track disaster response programs in LMICs with the goal of understanding how programs continue to employ unique new approaches to respond to debilitating disasters.

For more information on CHMI profiled programs that focus on disaster response, please email Ankita Panda at