Chile is appealing for international medical assistance in
the aftermath of the fifth most powerful earthquake ever recorded.
The initial quake on 27 February measured 8.8 on the Richter
scale—far larger than the 7.2 earthquake that recently devastated Haiti—and was
followed by dozens of powerful aftershocks and tsunamis. The death toll is
likely to be in the thousands, and more than half a million homes are thought
to have been damaged.
There has not been enough time for any detailed assessment,
but as the BMJ went to press it was reported that six hospitals had totally
collapsed and another two were so severely damaged that they can no longer
As the epicentre was deep underground in a scarcely
populated region, and many major buildings were built to withstand earthquakes,
the effects are likely to be far less severe than the destruction in Haiti.
However, much of the south of the country has been declared a disaster area.
The region's main town, Concepción, has been particularly badly affected.
A dawn to dusk curfew has been imposed across much of the
south after widespread looting, which has reportedly hindered rescue efforts.
At the same time the government has arranged for supermarkets to distribute
essential items free of charge.
Situated in one of the world's most active tectonic zones,
Chile has extensive experience in dealing with earthquakes. In 1960 it had the
largest earthquake in recorded history (9.5 on the Richter scale), and it has
some of the most stringent building regulations in the world. It also has a
strong infrastructure and economy so is well placed to respond, although the
extent of the damage is likely to overwhelm its domestic response capacity.
The Pan American Health Organization, the World Health
Organization's regional body, said, “Chile's Ministry of Health and the
National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior are very well
organised and have significant experience in disaster preparedness, readiness,
However, Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet, said that
more than two million people had been displaced and that her country was
“facing an unthinkable catastrophe that will require an enormous effort in
She appealed for international help with field hospitals,
mobile bridges, telecommunications equipment, power generators, water
purification equipment, and rescue workers “to replace exhausted local crews.”
Chile's air force is setting up four field hospitals in the
worst affected areas, but additional temporary facilities are needed to fill
the gap left by the damaged facilities, and there is reportedly still a
shortage of healthcare personnel.
The Chilean Red Cross and the Catholic relief agency Caritas
are already active on the ground; other international agencies are awaiting
further assessment before seeking to intervene.
To complicate the relief planning President Bachelet is
standing down next week, to be replaced by a recently elected new
administration. She is now coordinating relief efforts with president elect
Sebastián Piñera, who said, “This calamity is much deeper, much more damaging,
and much more serious than we thought.”
Cedip promueve construir equidad en nuestra área mediante el libre acceso a la información médica, para mejorar la práctica clínica y la atención de pacientes embarazadas.