How the WHO Responds to Natural Disasters Like Nepal's Earthquake

little boy protects little sister in Nepal
A 4 year-old boy protects his 2 year-old sister in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Nepal.. Copyright (C) George Dsouza

When natural disasters like the earthquake in Nepal disrupt the lives of so many people, the World Health Organization (WHO) responds quickly with medical supplies and personnel to manage the need and the logistics.

But what does that really look like when it comes to medical supply distribution to a country in desperate need?

The WHO Response in Nepal

The WHO sent three main sources of support to Nepal:

  1. Personnel to help local officials in Nepal find out what exactly the population needs most urgently, and to coordinate the supply and distribution of those supplies
  2. Money, to pay for the purchase and transport of the supplies
  3. Emergency Health Kits

Emergency Health Kits in Nepal

The World Health Organization sent four emergency health kits in the first hours of the Nepal earthquake. Each of these emergency health kits contain enough supplies for 10,000 people, so the three kits brought enough support for 40,000 of the most direly suffering people.

These four emergency health kits are designed to meet the emergency health needs of the 40,000 people for three months. The kits are a well-planned mix of supplies from several agencies within the WHO, and were primarily distributed to the hospitals in Nepal that could care for the people in crisis.

Among the supplies in the emergency health kits were medicines, disposable medical supplies (gloves, bandages, face protection, etc.), and instruments such as wound care kits and the tools needed to stitch up wounds.

Each kit is organized into separate basic and supplementary units. The basic sub-kits are designed to be used by primary health care workers with limited training. These include non-injectable drugs, simple treatment guidelines, basic medical supplies and some essential equipment. The basic kit also includes a complete sterilization package intended to create clean water at the hospital for the medical staff to work with in their caregiving efforts.

The supplementary units are supplies for more advanced medical care, and doctors and nurses with advanced training. These include drugs, supplementary supplies that require expert medical experience, and reusable supplies and equipment that require cleaning and sterilization by experienced doctors, nurses, and public health workers who understand the importance of such tasks and exactly how to do so. The sterilization kits and how to deploy them in the midst of the earthquake's destructive aftermath no doubt proves challenging.

Some of the medical supplies, instruments, and equipment in the supplementary kits are sent to the more in tact hospitals where doctors and nurses have the infrastructure to perform primary and secondary referral procedures. For example, the medical care closest to the epicenter of the quake most closely resembles what many would consider "first aid," while the victims who require more intense wound care, surgery, and repair are transported some distance to the closest capable medical centers where these procedures and healing can take place in a safe and clean environment.

The money disseminated by the WHO not only pay for these supplies and their transport to Nepal, but also cover gaps in funding for upgrading the care needed by this specific event. And WHO officials from outside of Nepal have been flown in to aid the existing WHO office staff there to further bolster logistical and medical  tasks that have overwhelmed the small existing staff.

The WHO is of course not the only agency that responds to natural disasters like Nepal's earthquake. It is among the rapid responders like UNICEF with considerable medical supplies, personnel, and funding behind it to respond in force to a mass casualty situation.

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