Critical Care and Shock

Saudi medical relief mission to earthquake in Bam, Iran: medical perspectives, experience and lessons learnt


Objective: To discuss the experiences of a medical team to an earthquake hit area and provides suggestions for organization of similar missions to disaster sites in future so that more cost-effective relief may be provided.

Design: Descriptive study.

Setting: City of Bam in southeastern Iran’s Kerman province which was hit by an earthquake of 6.8 Richter on December 26, 2003. This destructive earthquake killed 43,200, injured 30,000 of the city’s 125,000 residents and destroyed 90% of the buildings. Most of the survivors lost family members, homes, jobs and suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Relief mission and interventions: The Saudi government sent a group of experts from the Saudi Red Crescent, National Guard Health Affairs, Ministry of Health and Military and Defense forces to provide acute care to the injured and contribute to the process of rebuilding the health care system. The Saudi mission was divided into three teams, one to triage patients for transfer to other health facilities, the second team was the air medivac transport staff, and the third team was assigned to establish a field hospital in Bam.

Results: From December 28, 2003 to January 3, 2004 the air medivac transferred 400 patients uneventfully. Majority of the transported suffered from fractures or crush syndrome injuries to the lower extremities. In 9 days, the Saudi Field Hospital treated 1849 patients for earthquake-related injuries, as well as other medical emergencies. This mission generated lot of goodwill and was able to create efficient medical facility in short time. However, numerous shortcomings were encountered in coordination, decision-making, security, team composition and communication.

Conclusions: During this swift and massive relief operation, many positives were achieved but at the same time, difficulties were encountered which may have compromised the efficiency and effectiveness and increased the costs.