Content » Vol 49, Issue 8

Special report

Medical Rehabilitation in disaster relief: Towards a new perspective

Bhasker Amatya, Mary Galea, Jianan Li, Fary Khan
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, The Royal Melbourne Hospital, 34-54 Poplar Road Parkville, Melbourne VIC 3052, Australia. E-mail:
DOI: 10.2340/16501977-2250


With increasing frequency of natural disasters, there has been greater focus recently on the importance and role of rehabilitation services in disaster management. In past disasters, rehabilitative needs were often neglected, with emphasis on acute response plans focused on saving lives and treating acute injuries. There was a lack of, or inadequate, rehabilitation-inclusive disaster response plans and rehabilitation services in many disaster-prone developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Medical Team (EMT) initiative recognizes rehabilitation as an integral part of medical response and patient-centred care in disaster settings. Current developments under this initiative include: the development of minimum standards for rehabilitation in emergencies to allow rapid, professional, coordinated medical response by both national and international EMTs. These guidelines ensure that EMTs deliver effective and coordinated patient care during disasters and continuum of care beyond their departure. The aim is to strengthen national capacity, foster an environment of self-empowerment of EMTs and local health services, and work in rehabilitation within defined coordination mechanisms in disaster-affected areas. A brief overview of rehabilitation in natural disasters, highlighting current developments, challenges; and gaps in the implementation of WHO guidelines for Minimum Standards for Rehabilitation in Emergencies is discussed in order to improve care for victims of future disasters.

Lay Abstract

With the increasing frequency of natural disasters and an upsurge in survivors with disabling injuries, there is now greater focus on the importance of rehabilitation services in disaster management. There is strong consensus amongst global health authorities that medical rehabilitation should be initiated in the immediate emergency response phase, and continued in the community over the longer-term. In the last decade, significant developments in international, regional and national collaboration and management capacities in disaster management have occurred. Unfortunately, major disparities amongst countries still exist, and those with a high disaster risk tend to have low coping and management capacity.


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