In 1987 the international medical and humanitarian aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders) created its own research center, called Epicentre, to help address critical health research questions that arise during humanitarian emergencies. In this week's PLoS Medicine, Vincent Brown from Epicentre and colleagues look back over twenty years of research conducted by MSF and Epicentre and discuss how this research helped to improve field operations.
The authors discuss their research on:
- rapidly assessing the health status of a population--such as a July 1994 survey among 800,000 Rwandan refugees in Goma, Zaïre, which showed that in the first month alone over 10% of the population had died, 88% from diarrhea
- responding to infectious disease outbreaks, such as a 2004 study during a large hepatitis E outbreak in Darfur, Sudan, which found that chlorinated surface water was a potential risk factor for hepatitis E transmission compared with non-chlorinated water from deep drilling
- treating malnutrition, including testing various techniques to try and predict acute malnutrition in young children
- developing better diagnostic tools, such as rapid diagnostic tests for malaria.
"Finding pragmatic and efficacious answers to public health questions generated by the field has led Epicentre research activities over the last 20 years," say Dr Brown and colleagues. "The ultimate goal remains to address questions aimed at significantly improve the health status of affected populations."
Citation: Brown V, Guerin PJ, Legros D, Paquet C, Pécoul B, et al. (2008) Research in complexhumanitarian emergencies: The Médecins Sans Frontières/Epicentre experience. PLoS Med 5(4): e89.
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