Tansey CM, Pringle J, Davé A, Boulanger R, Hunt M. Earthquakes to Floods: A Scoping Review of Health-related Disaster Research in Low- and Middle-income Countries. PLOS Currents Disasters. 2018 Aug 30 . Edition 1. doi: 10.1371/currents.dis.57d98a902a326361d88d54521e68b016.
Catherine M. Tansey, John Pringle, Anushree Davé, Renaud Boulanger, Matthew Hunt
Introduction: Health-related disaster research is a relatively small; but growing field of inquiry. A better understanding of the scope and scale of health-related disaster research that has occurred in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) would be useful to funders, researchers, humanitarian aid organizations, and governments as they strive to identify gaps, disparities, trends, and needs of populations affected by disasters.
Methodology: We performed a scoping review using the process outlined by Arksey & O’Malley to assess the characteristics of peer-reviewed publications of empirical health-rFelated disaster research conducted in LMICs and published in the years 2003-2012.
Results: Five hundred and eighty-two relevant publications were identified. Earthquakes were by far the most commonly researched events (62% of articles) in the review’s timeframe. More articles were published about disasters in China & South Asia/South East Asia than all other regions. Just over half of the articles (51%) were published by research teams in which all the authors’ primary listed affiliations were with an institution located in the same country where the research was conducted. Most of the articles were classified as either mental health, neurology and stress physiology (35%) or as traumatology, wounds and surgery (19%). In just over half of the articles (54%), data collection was initiated within 3 months of the disaster, and in 13% research was initiated between 3 and 6 months following the disaster. The articles in our review were published in 282 different journals.
Discussion: The high number of publications studying consequences of an earthquake may not be surprising, given that earthquakes are devastating sudden onset events in LMICs. Researchers study topics that require immediate attention following a disaster, such as trauma surgery, as well as health problems that manifest later, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. One neglected area of study during the review’s timeframe was the impact of disasters on non-communicable and chronic diseases (excluding mental health), and the management of these conditions in the aftermath of disasters. Strengthening disaster research capacity is critical for fostering robust research in the aftermath of disasters, a particular need in LMICs.
Funding for this study was received from grant EOG 123679 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (principal investigator: Matthew Hunt). Dr. Hunt is supported by a Research Scholar Award from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé. At the time of working on the project, Renaud Boulanger was supported by a Master’s Award from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Disaster research endeavours to increase our understanding of disasters and their consequences for human health and societies, as well as to develop evidence that will lead to improved emergency responses. Health-related disaster research is a relatively small field of inquiry, but it is growing. By health-related disaster research, we are referring to “studies conducted with human subjects during or following an event such as an earthquake, flood, hurricane, tsunami or typhoon”. However, there is currently limited knowledge about the nature and scope of health-related human subject research implemented in disasters, particularly of those studies conducted in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). A better understanding of the scope and the scale of health-related disaster research that has occurred in LMICs would be useful to responders, funders, researchers, research institutions, and governments as they seek to identify gaps, disparities, trends and needs of populations affected by disasters. Disasters are increasing worldwide and they occur disproportionately in LMICs where there are fewer resources for disaster preparedness and response and often less capacity to undertake research.
As interest in disaster research grows, so too does the number of journals dedicated to this area of inquiry. Many disaster-related articles are published in non-disaster specific journals in fields such as medicine, public health, geography, development studies, anthropology, and history. However, as shown by several syntheses of this literature , many of these articles are not original empirical research articles. We therefore conducted a scoping review of articles reporting health-related disaster research conducted in LMICs and published between 2003 and 2012. We chose to make LMICs our area of focus since “85% of disasters and 95% of disaster-related deaths occur in the developing world”5. To our knowledge, no review to date has focused exclusively on original research publications of studies conducted during or in the aftermath of disasters in LMICs.