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Belgium sends “top team” to create field hospital in Turkey

The first members of the Belgian medical team that is being built in Turkey have left Brussels.  Belgium is establishing a field hospital to help earthquake victims and ease pressure on Turkish hospitals.  The field hospital should be up and running by next Thursday at the latest. 

The Belgian field hospital will have the capacity to treat over a hundred patients a day. It will also be able to keep up to a score of patients in observation over night.  The medical team includes Belgian doctors, specialised in emergency medicine and supported by A&E staff as well as other specific medical profiles.

The team will be able to operate and offer other life-saving medical assistance.  A dedicated Mother&Child ward will also be created.

The Belgian effort will ease pressure on Turkish health care facilities that are expected to be kept busy for many weeks following the disaster.

Belgian aid workers leave in three waves.  A first team, the assessment team, will reconnoitre a location for a field hospital.  It includes a doctor, nurse and firefighter. This team will contact the local population and look for the best location.  “Preferably near an existing hospital” says emergency doctor van Berlaer, who will be part of the assessment team. “But often little is left standing.  It must be a location that is easily accessible for aid workers and victims”.

A second team that will build the field hospital will leave at the weekend.  The advanced team is larger and will offer medical assistance ranging from surgery to wound care.

The third wave consists of the medics who will work at the hospital. This is the emergency and medical team. “You need to bring everything with you” says Dr van Berlaer.  “You need to ensure running water and electricity to make sure you are not a burden on local services that are probably also damaged”.  In all the Belgian team will include up to 80 members and stay in the field for several weeks.

Questions have been raised about why it is taking so long to get a Belgian aid effort to Turkey.  In the past teams would leave with little planning and coordination.  Experience has shown this is a recipe for disaster.  “If everybody rushes out there without coordination, you’re not providing the best effort for victims” says Dr van Berlaer.  “You need to consider the long term.  If everybody rushes out there and departs after a week you leave a dump behind”.

To prevent such experiences international agreements were made in 2013.  Belgium helped to draw up the guidelines.  The guidelines mean medical teams need WHO recognition before they can enter the disaster area: “In the event of a disaster you need to register online and specify what aid you can provide.  Only when the stricken country responds are you able to leave.  There’s a lot of admin and permission needs to be granted before you can leave” says Dr van Berlaer.

The Belgian medical emergency intervention team B-FAST needed to wait for this permission.

In addition to doctors and nurses the B-FAST team also includes logistic staff that put up the tents and people that ensure transportation and make meals. “We’ve also got people specialised in water purification” says Dr van Berlaer.  “We have a top team”.

The assessment team will only stay in Turkey for a week or so.  Other teams stay for several months.  The objective is eventually to hand the facility over to local care workers.

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B-FAST in Nepal in 2015

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