When disaster strikes, particularly in developing countries, providing medical and healthcare supplies at the right time has the potential to save lives.
Whether it’s natural and climate disasters or conflicts, the aftermath of these crises in countries with struggling health systems can be nothing short of disastrous, exacerbating what are already precarious circumstances.
But what exactly is the impact of providing emergency medical and diagnostic supplies to vulnerable communities? Shameet Thakkar, founder and managing director of Unimed Procurement Services (Unimed), discusses the role they play in disaster relief.
“There is a significant number of communities in the world that live without access to essential healthcare. And when a crisis arises, these communities are particularly at risk,” he comments.
“Disaster relief interventions involve complex negotiations and a variety of logistic challenges, chiefly because we have to act fast, guarantee the highest standards of quality and be prepared to promptly resolve issues along the way.
“Ultimately, we have to do everything we can to ensure these products reach their destination safely, and in a timely manner. And amongst the current supply chain problems, this is no small feat.”
The value of emergency trauma packs
Though the logistics behind the sourcing, shipment and delivery of healthcare equipment are doubtlessly challenging, the combined efforts of such a large network of entities are capable of making an enormous difference for those affected.
The valuable humanitarian assistance provided in response to recent crises such as the conflict in Ukraine and the floods in Pakistan has highlighted just how valuable even basic medical consumables and equipment can be under these difficult circumstances.
Emergency trauma packs have proved to be particularly beneficial in response to major trauma due to hostile attacks or natural disasters.
“Emergency trauma kits can include anything from haemorrhage control packs, sterile wound dressings, tourniquets and protective masks to survival blankets and chest seals.
“In situations where severe wounds cannot be properly treated, and even essential supplies are extremely difficult to come by, having access to one of these packs can mean preventing injuries from deteriorating and potentially becoming life-threatening,” comments Shameet.
In most cases, emergency trauma packs are all a doctor or volunteer needs to temporarily treat an injury, and can be effective even when those tending to the injury lack advanced medical training.
Focusing on the long-term: the role of diagnostic equipment
However, body trauma isn’t the only issue. Natural disasters such as flooding can cause entire territories to become breeding grounds for waterborne diseases such as leptospirosis, dengue fever and malaria – and where flooding contaminates drinking water, populations can become at risk of cholera and hepatitis A, too.
To get a clearer picture of just how damaging the consequences of floods can be for vulnerable communities, one need only cast their mind to the floods that occurred in Pakistan in June 2022, which caused a significant upsurge in the number of malaria infections, with 3.4 million suspected cases reported between January and August alone.
“Pakistan’s health system is simply not equipped to cope with the burden brought about by such a challenging outbreak, and there is no easy way out.
“As with other diseases and illnesses such as cholera, treatment can be difficult if the disease is left untreated for a long time, and the lack of availability of essential medicines is often also a problem, meaning that early diagnostics is the only reliable long-term solution.
“And this is why as well as vector control, The Government of Pakistan and WHO’s official health response to the malaria outbreak focuses on preventive drugs and diagnostic testing,” adds Shameet.
Supplying diagnostic kits to developing countries when these outbreaks occur can be crucial in controlling the spread of illnesses and diseases, serving a purpose that goes beyond momentary disaster relief.
Shaping a more resilient future for healthcare
Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world, with a severely underfunded health system, a high prevalence of a number of life-threatening illnesses and diseases and substandard, falsely labelled and counterfeit medicines, all of which make transitioning to a strong universal health system particularly difficult.
Increasing access to healthcare should be a priority for countries such as Pakistan, as should be building resilience into health systems. However, achieving this is going to require years of economic development and targeted initiatives.
“The long-term goal is undoubtedly to improve these countries’ health systems to decrease their reliance on emergency interventions, and placing more focus on diagnostic practices is a vital first step,” states Shameet.
“Early detection is key in slowing spread, reducing mortality and managing the effects of viruses and diseases for entire populations, yet it can also be useful in protecting health workers and workforces entering areas at risk.
“Diagnostic equipment effectively provides a solution to help governments prepare for outbreaks and control them from the onset, in turn better protecting their communities.”