By Lee Jacobs, MD
Winter 2005 - Volume 9 Number 1
The recent tsunami disaster has led people throughout the world to ask: How can I help? As health care professionals, we wonder how our skills might help those in need. After a disaster, the first responding agencies have limited roles for volunteers. When recovery efforts are complete and basic infrastructure is in place, there is usually a need for long-term health care support. Well-organized, short-term health care teams can be of tremendous value to a recovering community. Most international agencies responding to disasters do not have the capability to mobilize large numbers of short-term volunteer teams. This is the role of the volunteer organizations. The value of health professional teams is directly related to how well volunteers are recruited, oriented, and equipped. Over the past 12 years, I have mobilized teams of health professionals to remote regions of Central Asia and, as a flight surgeon in the US Air Force, I participated in disaster responses. While disaster response and routine humanitarian support may be different in many ways, many of the logistical issues confronting volunteers on short-term teams are the same. It is for this reason that I am presenting these practical lessons. I hope Permanente Medical Groups, as well as other medical groups, will take steps to develop the capability of sending numerous volunteer teams to countries in need, today and for years to come.