Johan von Schreeb on humanitarian aid

  • 14/01/2008

Johan Von Schreeb, a surgeon who has worked for the group Medicins Sans Frontieres, is a public health scholar with the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden. His recently published PhD thesis enquired into humanitarian health assistance in countries affected by disasters. He tells Vibha Varshney why such assistance has often failed to meet the real needs of people.

Failure of humanitarian assistance International health assistance rarely looks beyond treating trauma cases, which need immediate attention. By the time health professionals from abroad reach an affected area, the life-saving trauma care needs are mostly over. They are usually taken care of by local medical infrastructure, in whatever manner possible. In Iran, Haiti, Indonesia and Pakistan, none of the 43 foreign field hospitals that were set up were operational within 48 hours of the disasters. The field hospitals in Iran dealt with deliveries and appendicitis cases. Whereas, after a terrorist attack in the Beslan School, North Ossetia, Russia, in 2004, medical care was provided by 500 local doctors, and there was adequate local and national resources to address the immediate crisis.

Donor policy A donor's policy of funding health projects is based on