Research Article: If You Could Only Choose Five Psychotropic Medicines: Updating the Interagency Emergency Health Kit

Date Published: May 3, 2011

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mark van Ommeren, Corrado Barbui, Kaz de Jong, Tarun Dua, Lynne Jones, Pau Perez-Sales, Marian Schilperoord, Peter Ventevogel, M. Taghi Yasamy, Shekhar Saxena

Abstract: Mark van Ommeren and colleagues describe how they chose five psychotropic medicines to add to the Interagency Emergency Health Kit, which is a box with medicines and medical supplies designed to help people in major humanitarian emergencies.

Partial Text: The Interagency Emergency Health Kit (IEHK) [1] is a large, pre-packed box containing medicines and medical supplies (Table 1). The kit is designed to meet the expected primary health care (PHC) needs of persons exposed to acute humanitarian crises caused, for example, by forced displacement or major natural disaster such as an earthquake, cyclone, or tsunami. Such events often involve the partial or complete destruction of locally available medicines. The IEHK aims to provide sufficient medicines and supplies for medical care for a population of 10,000 people—located in one geographical area or place—for 3 months. The next version of the IEHK will be the fourth edition of the one originally developed three decades ago [2],[3]. While data on this new IEHK are not yet available, the third edition came in a very heavy, large box (1,045 kg, 4.6 m3) containing ten basic kits and one supplementary kit [4]. The IEHK is held in stock by major suppliers of generic medicines, most of whom ship it within 48 hours after being ordered by an aid agency (Figure 1).

Medical care for people with severe mental or neurological disorders has, historically, not been a priority in humanitarian crises, but this is changing [8]. One major impetus for change has been the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings[9], which was developed through an extensive consultation process. The Guidelines were released by a committee of United Nations (UN) and non-UN international humanitarian agencies responsible for humanitarian policy according to UN General Assembly resolution 46/182. The Guidelines describe minimum responses during emergencies and cover a wide range of mostly social interventions for the population at large as well as psychological first aid for people experiencing acute distress. In addition, these IASC guidelines emphasize the protection of and care for people with severe mental disorders as a priority in acute emergencies.

The changes to the IEHK described in this article have addressed a fundamental inequity. In emergencies, PHC professionals will now be in a position to provide medical treatment to people with severe mental or neurological disorders on a par with treatment for other medical conditions, because psychotropic medicines will be available in emergencies.



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