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A tale of two earthquakes: Stanford doctor discusses responses to the Nepal and Haiti disasters

boy in Nepal - 560

Nepal’s 7.8 earthquake in late April killed 8,000 people and displaced thousands more. Paul Auerbach, MD, a professor of emergency medicine at Stanford, spent about a week caring for the people of Kathmandu and recently sat down for a Q&A session with Shana Lynch of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where Auerbach earned a master’s degree in 1989.

Auerbach was also part of the medical response team in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there killed hundreds of thousands. While talking with Lynch, he compares the two earthquakes and the very different medical responses they needed:

When you come in, you need to find the victims. You need to treat them. You need medical supplies. You need adequate personnel in order to manage the life- and limb-threatening injuries in the first few days. From the moment of the earthquake and forward, there’s a need for water and food. In Haiti, the supplies initially weren’t there. Everything needed to be carried in. In Kathmandu, for the most part, the supplies were available. Of course, they needed supplementation, and that happened and will continue to happen. In Kathmandu, they never were in a situation where they had nothing, which was unfortunately the situation in Port-au-Prince.

He also discusses some of the challenges of coordinating an appropriate disaster response plan:

There comes a point when you have enough people and enough supplies. At that point, you need to start storing things and sending people home.

The responses are never perfect because you discover that you need more of something and less of something else. The same holds true for people. For example, the changing nature of medical conditions following an earthquake causes you to need emergency medicine specialists early on, but then orthopedic surgeons and reconstructive surgeons later during the response.

Lynch and Auerbach’s conversation also touches on why community leaders need to plan for disasters, regardless of where they are. It’s an interesting inside look into how medical teams think about and respond to natural disasters.

Previously: “Still many unknowns”: Stanford physician reflects on post-earthquake Nepal, Day 6: Heading for home after treating Nepal earthquake victims, Day 4: Reaching beyond Kathmandu in treating Nepal earthquake victims, Day 2: “We have heard tales of miraculous survival” following Nepal earthquake, Day 1: Arriving in Nepal to aid earthquake victims and Reports from Stanford medical team in Haiti
Photo courtesy of Paul Auerbach

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