Spanish know-how boosts Palestinian emergency response

Published: 6 May 2004 0:00 CET

A man is carried into the tent on a stretcher with an open wound on his chest. He is hurriedly taken into surgery at the advanced medical post, where doctors and nurses are ready to start operating immediately.

Meanwhile several ambulances arrive with injured people, many of them covered in blood, the paramedics shouting for assistance. Hysterical relatives of dead and injured people come running into the tents, and only with great efforts do the staff and volunteers manage to calm them down.

Fortunately the blood was not real blood, and the injured were young volunteers of the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) who had gathered with the rest of the team in the West Bank town of Ramallah to take part in a mass casualty simulation.

“There has been good progress during these days of training and now the team is able to completely assemble the post in less than half an hour,” said logistics technician Carlos Fernandez de Gambol, one of three Spanish Red Cross instructors who have been training the 30 PRCS staff and volunteers belonging to the unit.

“Erecting the inflatable tents is the most time-consuming part of the assembling process, and much of the pumping has to be done by hand. In real situations it is often possible to assemble the advanced medical post inside existing buildings close to the emergency, which makes it possible to assemble the post more quickly,” he explains.

The advanced medical post is designed to be deployed immediately in the event of emergencies involving mass casualties. Two trailers are used to transport the unit, and these can be towed by ambulances when there is a need for increased medical capacity on the spot. The main unit consists of two inflatable tents with an emergency surgical room and beds for patients.

“In the recent attacks on commuter trains in Madrid, the Spanish Red Cross dispatched a similar unit to help the victims, although hopefully the PRCS is not going to have to respond to disasters on such an overwhelming scale,” said emergency nurse Raimundo Dompablo Guerrero, who like the other Spanish instructors, has many years of experience in large-scale disasters, having worked with emergency response units in countries like Algeria, Turkey and Iran.

“Madrid showed us very clearly that speed is absolutely crucial to the effectiveness of the advanced medical post. The fact that after the attacks it was up and operating within half an hour of the attack saved many lives,” he said.

His colleague, emergency doctor Marta Trayner Guixens, says the purpose of the advanced medical post is simply to stabilise and classify patients during large-scale disasters such as train accidents, bomb attacks and natural disasters.

“It is designed to be used for only very short periods. In that respect, it is different from a typical emergency response unit, which has capacity to operate independently for longer periods, and serve around 30,000 people per month,” she points out.

The PRCS now has two advanced medical posts, one in the Gaza Strip, donated by the European Union’s humanitarian office, and the other Ramallah, donated by the Spanish Red Cross and the Qatar Red Crescent Society.

Now the PRCS, Spanish Red Cross and other partners have started working on establishing two more advanced medical posts in the West Bank. “The PRCS also has ambitions to play a regional role in emergency response, and in this respect the advanced medical posts and the training play an important role,” says Hassan Rasharat, PRCS Disaster Management Coordinator.

“We are planning to make greater use of the advanced medical posts. Because of movement restrictions related to the conflict, many people in the West Bank are isolated and living without access to health infrastructure. If needed this mobile unit can be deployed to service such areas,” he adds.

Representatives from the Palestine Red Crescent visited the Spanish Red Cross in 2002, as part of an effort to build up the PRCS’s emergency response capacity, especially with the aim of responding to emergencies surrounding the conflict.

Although the two advanced medical posts have now arrived, the conflict has made it difficult for the PRCS to make full use of them. It has not yet been possible, for example, to conduct training in Gaza yet, and it will consequently be some time before the advanced medical post there becomes operational.