Intended for healthcare professionals

Reviews Personal views

Do doctors who volunteer their services in disasters overseas do more harm than good?

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 26 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:244
  1. Hasan Tahir, consultant physician and rheumatologist (,
  2. Zafar Iqbal, general practitioner and sports physician
  1. Academic Rheumatology and Osteoporosis Unit, Whipps Cross University Hospital, London
  2. Carlton House Surgery, Enfield

    Recently we returned from the area in Pakistan affected by October's earthquake, having provided care to people suffering in its aftermath. Nothing could have prepared us for the distressing scenes we saw. Whole generations have been lost; millions of people have been left homeless and thousands of children orphaned.

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    Should there be a system for checking the background of care providers in disasters such as the Pakistan earthquake?


    As in all recent natural disasters there was an outpouring of charity from the public and a rush to the scene of scores of emergency relief organisations. These ranged from recognised, regulated official organisations to unregulated and ad hoc groups.

    Many individual overseas medical professionals volunteered their help and inundated the afflicted areas. However, although well meant, their help led us to question whether volunteer doctors do more harm than good.

    We were alarmed at the number of patients who had received some …

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