Introduction: Foreign field hospitals (FFHs) may provide care for the injured and substitute for destroyed hospitals in the aftermath of sudden-onset disasters.
Problem: In the aftermath of sudden-onset disasters, FFHs have been focused on providing emergency trauma care for the initial 48 hours following the sudden-onset disasters, while they tend to be operational much later. In addition, many have remained operational even later. The aim of this study was to assess the timing, activities, and capacities of the FFHs deployed after four recent sudden-onset disasters, and also to assess their adherence to the essential criteria for FFH deployment of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Methods: Secondary information on the sudden-onset disasters in Bam, Iran in 2003, Haiti in 2004, Aceh, Indonesia in 2004, and Kashmir, Pakistan in 2005, including the number of FFHs deployed, their date of arrival, country of origin, length of stay, activities, and costs was retrieved by searching the Internet. Additional information was collected on-site in Iran, Indonesia, and Pakistan through direct observation and key informant interviews.
Results: Basic information was found for 43 FFHs in the four disasters. The first FFH was operational on Day 3 in Bam and Kashmir, and on Day 8 in Aceh. The first FFHs were all from the militaries of neighboring countries. The daily cost of a bed was estimated to be US$2,000. The bed occupancy rate generally was < 50%. None of the 43 FFHs met the first WHO/Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) essential requirement if the aim is to provide emergency trauma care, while 15% followed the essential requirement if follow-up trauma and medical care is the aim of deployment.
Discussion: A striking finding was the lack of detailed information on FFH activities. None of the 43 FFHs arrived early enough to provide emergency medical trauma care. The deployment of FFHs following sudden-onset disasters should be better adapted to the main needs and the context and more oriented toward substituting for pre-existing hospitals, rather than on providing immediate trauma care.