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Preparation is key to successful emergency relief efforts

Monday, March 1st, 2010

As medical aid workers head to Chile after the weekend’s devastating earthquake, researchers are discovering that sending too much help too quickly can actually be a bad thing. WHYY reports on an evaluation of the medical response to the earthquake in Haiti.

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An uncoordinated outpouring of support can overwhelm the relief system and delay help – say the authors of a report published online in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article examines what healthcare professionals can learn from their experience in Haiti.

Lead author Dr. Raina Merchant is a University of Pennsylvania emergency physician. She says people organizing disaster relief need to identify professionals whose skills are needed immediately, and those whose efforts are best applied later. To do that, she says, potential volunteers should register as emergency responders:

Merchant: Healthcare professionals who have disaster medicine training who are registered in advance will help the next community that’s faced with an unexpected event be able to recover.

Merchant says before leaving, healthcare professionals have to carefully evaluate the situation in a disaster zone – issues like safety, power outages, transportation. Cooper Medical professionals who went to Haiti say their training prior to the disaster proved crucial in providing care to earthquake survivors.

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