Brazil puts emergency medical plan into action

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 18 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d359
  1. Klaus Morales
  1. 1São Paulo, Brazil

An emergency medical plan has been put in place after floods and mudslides struck three cities in the mountainous area north of Rio de Janeiro.

In what is thought to be the greatest natural disaster in Brazil’s history, more than 640 people have died and at least 10 000 have lost their homes.

Field hospitals were built two days after the disaster and are being coordinated by health personnel from the navy, Red Cross, and local health services. Doctors are working non-stop to find as many people as possible. Natural disaster experts say, however, that the chances of surviving a mudslide are low because little oxygen is available to people trapped in the mud.

Medical authorities are expecting 400 appointments a day, mainly for orthopaedics, paediatrics, and clinical medicine. Minor surgical procedures can be done in the field hospitals, but critically ill patients have to be moved. Some of the private hospitals are treating patients from the public health sector.

Doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are expected to arrive this week. “We have been following the situation since last Tuesday and sent a team to visit the hospitals in the affected areas and to evaluate the survivors’ status,” said Tyler Fainstat, executive director of the Brazilian branch of MSF. Vania Alves, MSF Brazil’s press secretary, told the BMJ: “The health teams will also see patients suffering with mental health disorders, which is extremely common in these scenarios.”

A programme of tetanus vaccination started four days after the mudslide; however, not enough vaccine stock is available to cover the entire population. Needles, medical gauze, syringes, and many drugs are in short supply. The Ministry of Health said that there are enough drugs to treat 45 000 people for a month.

Sources working in the region told the BMJ that some of the drugs sent to the disaster area would not be appropriate, and there is a lack of drugs to treat chronic illnesses, such as hypertension, diabetes, and epilepsy. Donations are coming from all over the country, but they are not enough to cover the needs of the population affected.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d359

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