Pre- and post-deployment health support provided to Australian disaster medical assistance team members: results of a national survey

Aitken, Peter, Leggat, Peter, Robertson, Andrew, Harley, Hazel, Speare, Richard, and Le Clerq, Muriel (2009) Pre- and post-deployment health support provided to Australian disaster medical assistance team members: results of a national survey. Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, 7 (5). pp. 305-311.

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Summary Background: Calls for disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs) are likely to continue in response to international disasters. As part of a national survey, the present study was designed to evaluate Australian DMAT experience in relation to pre- and post-deployment health care.

Methods: Data was collected via an anonymous mailed survey distributed via State and Territory representatives on the Australian Health Protection Committee, who identified team members associated with Australian DMAT deployments from the 2004 South East Asian Tsunami disaster.

Results: The response rate for this survey was estimated to be around 50% (59/118). Most of the personnel had deployed to the tsunami affected areas. The DMAT members were quite experienced with 53% of personnel in the 45-55 years age group (31/59). Seventy-six percent of the respondents were male (44/58). Only 42% (25/59) received a medical check prior to departure and only 15% (9/59) received a psychological assessment prior to deployment. Most respondents indicated that both medical and psychological screening of personnel would be desirable. Most DMAT personnel received some vaccinations (83%, 49/59) before departure and most felt that they were adequately immunised. While nearly all DMAT members participated in formal debriefing post-deployment (93%, 55/59), far less received psychological debriefing (44%, 26/59), or a medical examination upon return (10%, 6/59). Three respondents reported experiencing physical ill health resulting in time off work following their return. While only one reportedly experienced any adjustment problems post-deployment that needed time off work, 32% (19/59) found it somewhat difficult to return to work. There were multiple agencies involved in the post-deployment debriefing (formal and psychological) and medical examination process including Emergency Management Australia (EMA), Australian Government, State/Territory Health Departments, District Health services and others.

Conclusions: This study of Australian DMAT members suggests that more emphasis should be placed on health of personnel prior to deployment with pre-deployment medical examinations and psychological assessment. Following the return home, and in addition to mission and psychological debriefing, there should be a post-deployment medical examination and ongoing support and follow-up of DMAT members. More research is needed to examine deployment health support issues.

Item ID: 10053
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1873-0442
Keywords: disaster; medical assistance; Australia; South East Asia; travel medicine; health; psychology; disaster medical assistance teams
Date Deposited: 08 Apr 2010 23:37
FoR Codes: 11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111799 Public Health and Health Services not elsewhere classified @ 100%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920407 Health Protection and/or Disaster Response @ 100%
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