Medical rehabilitation after natural disasters: why, when, and how?

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2012 Oct;93(10):1875-81. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2012.05.018. Epub 2012 Jun 4.


Natural disasters can cause significant numbers of severe, disabling injuries, resulting in a public health emergency and requiring foreign assistance. However, since medical rehabilitation services are often poorly developed in disaster-affected regions and not highly prioritized by responding teams, physical and rehabilitation medicine (PRM) has historically been underemphasized in global disaster planning and response. Recent development of the specialties of "disaster medicine" and "disaster rehabilitation" has raised awareness of the critical importance of rehabilitation intervention during the immediate postdisaster emergency response. The World Health Organization Liaison Sub-Committee on Rehabilitation Disaster Relief of the International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine has authored this report to assess the role of emergency rehabilitation intervention after natural disasters based on current scientific evidence and subject matter expert accounts. Major disabling injury types are identified, and spinal cord injury, limb amputation, and traumatic brain injury are used as case studies to exemplify the challenges to effective management of disabling injuries after disasters. Evidence on the effectiveness of disaster rehabilitation interventions is presented. The authors then summarize the current state of disaster-related research, as well as lessons learned from PRM emergency rehabilitation response in recent disasters. Resulting recommendations for greater integration of PRM services into the immediate emergency disaster response are provided. This report aims to stimulate development of research and practice in the emerging discipline of disaster rehabilitation within organizations that provide medical rehabilitation services during the postdisaster emergency response.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disaster Medicine*
  • Disaster Planning*
  • Disasters*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine*
  • Societies, Medical