Disasters and the Evidence Aid Project

 

A tragic reality of our world is that disasters will continue to strike, affecting more and more people and resulting in more and more pain, suffering and death. Incomplete sentences, such as At … on … a magnitude … earthquake hit …, killing … thousand, injuring … thousand more and making … thousand homeless, are waiting to be completed, once the time, date, severity, location and number of people are determined. Subsequent recovery from such a disaster depends upon the making of good decisions and wise choices; science is seen as vital to both those actions. The Evidence Aid project (www.cochrane.org/evidenceaid) is a new approach to providing information on disaster-related decisions, choices, and actions. This project helps to deliver a key resource—knowledge—that can make a massive difference when responding to disasters.

People and organisations planning for, and responding to, natural disasters need high quality, unbiased information on what works, what does not work and what is unproven. Such groups have difficult choices to make when trying to make well-informed decisions that will help individuals and communities to recover from a disaster. They want to help and want their help to be effective, but can they be sure that their plans or actions will do more good than harm? 

For some time, scientists in many disciplines have done research that is potentially relevant to disaster relief; for example, trials of treatment for broken bones, studies of ways to deliver appropriate food quickly and efficiently and experiments on materials that provide shelter from the wind, rain or heat. However, expecting those engaged in disaster risk reduction, planning or response to have knowledge of, assess and use these individual studies is not practical. They have more important things to do than wade through numerous studies, some relevant and some not. Instead, they need timely access to reliable, unbiased, up-to-date summaries of relevant studies in a wide variety of areas: health, shelter, communication, construction, education, security and support for displaced people. The Evidence Aid project was established to provide this.

The need for the assimilation of relevant evidence has been recognised in the health care field for decades. In that field, there are thousands of evidence summaries, called systematic reviews, in which researchers bring together all relevant studies, appraise their quality, summarise their results and draw conclusions. Systematic reviews draw on the power of research that has already been performed, and they avoid undue emphasis on individual results or opinions. There is no reason why such an approach cannot help in the disaster setting, just as it has helped in clinical, hospital and community settings.

Following the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004, the world’s largest organisation dedicated to the production of systematic reviews of healthcare interventions, The Cochrane Collaboration (http://www.cochrane.org/) took on this challenge for health issues related to disasters. This global organisation, which now has more than 25,000 volunteers in over 100 countries, established Evidence Aid and started a collection of relevant reviews; recognising that it was too late to be of much help after the tsunami but that such resources would be needed in the future. Evidence Aid was more prepared for the 10 January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Since then, this type of initiative has moved to a new level, expanding beyond health care by securing funding and building new, interactive means to identify priorities and deliver the necessary knowledge. To that end, the Centre for Global Health, Trinity College, Dublin has become a leader in this international effort, working with the World Health Organisation, various NGOs, publishers and others.

Evidence Aid provides an exceptional collection of systematic reviews. The project is driven by the desire to match the needs of people with the output of research. Through the project, research findings are accessible and interactive, are free of charge, and cover old and new technologies: on paper, pre-packaged onto computers, or available via the internet and mobile technology. The project will improve outcomes for individuals, communities and societies, and it will allow the research community to play a part in humanitarian responses when there is a need.

The value of systematic reviews is recognised across many disciplines and the concept of drawing on the totality of evidence when making decisions is neither new nor outlandish when the benefits are explained to researchers, policy makers and the public. The time has come for systematic reviews to be applied to the challenges of disasters.

 

Michael Clarke
Trinity College Dublin
www.atomiumculture.eu

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