When disasters like the earthquake in Haiti or Hurricane Katrina strike, doctors and nurses flood in to help out.
But what happens later, when public health needs continue but much of the outside help has left?
Doctors, medical students and public health professionals will gather at Temple University’s Medical School Saturday to talk about how to plan for disaster relief and improvements to long-term care at the same time.
Michelle Mays, a New York-based nurse supervisor with Doctors Without Borders, just returned from Haiti where she was setting up a treatment center for cholera patients.
She said it was hard to juggle the immediate needs of her patients while at the same time training Haitian doctors and nurses. She faced a trade-off between giving immediate care and taking a bit longer to capitalize on teaching moments and build a better health-care infrastructure.
With a fast-moving disease like cholera, she said, “the challenge is just absolutely massive.”
She and other nurses and doctors will share their experiences on Saturday. Symposium organizers say they hope to help people make these kinds of decisions more effectively by making long-term public health more of a priority in disaster-response planning. This is especially important, and especially difficult, in areas that already have chronic health-care disparities.
Michael Yannes, with the Temple Emergency Action Corps, the organization hosting the event, said the difficulties of providing adequate disaster responses in places where basic health care is already lacking were driven home to him on a recent trip to El Salvador.
He traveled to rural areas of the country last March expecting to help victims of the flooding that followed Hurricane Ida. But he also found himself needing to treat problems that had been around for much longer.
“Not only were there acute situations but we had to deal with people not having enough food, people not having enough clothing, people not having enough shelter,” Yannes said. It “really tied together the interplay between acute and chronic disaster relief.”