Prehospital and Disaster Medicine

Original Research

Primary Health care and Disasters—The Current State of the Literature: What We Know, Gaps and Next Steps

Lynda Redwood-Campbella1 c1 and Jonathan Abrahamsa2

a1 Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario Canada

a2 Coordinator, Risk Reduction and Emergency Preparedness, Health Action in Crisis, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland


Introduction: The 2009 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction/Emergency Preparedness (DRR/EP) and the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 demonstrate increased international commitment to DRR/EP in addition to response and recovery. In addition, the World Health Report 2008 has re-focused the world's attention on the renewal of Primary Health Care (PHC) as a set of values/principles for all sectors. Evidence suggests that access to comprehensive PHC improves health outcomes and an integrated PHC approach may improve health in low income countries (LICs). Strong PHC health systems can provide stronger health emergency management, which reinforce each other for healthier communities.

Problem: The global re-emphasis of PHC recently necessitates the health sector and the broader disaster community to consider health emergency management from the perspective of PHC. How PHC is being described in the literature related to disasters and the quality of this literature is reviewed. Identifying which topics/lessons learned are being published helps to identify key lessons learned, gaps and future directions.

Methods: Fourteen major scientific and grey literature databases searched. Primary Health Care or Primary Care coupled with the term disaster was searched (title or abstract). The 2009 ISDR definition of disaster and the 1978 World Health Organization definition of Primary Health Care were used. 119 articles resulted.

Results: Literature characteristics; 16% research papers, only 29% target LICs, 8% of authors were from LICs, 7% clearly defined PHC, 50% used PHC to denote care provided by clinicians and 4% cited PHC values and principles. Most topics related to disaster response. Key topics; true need for PHC, mental health, chronic disease, models of PHC, importance of PHC soon after a natural disaster relative to acute care, methods of surge capacity, utilization patterns in recovery, access to vulnerable populations, rebuilding with the PHC approach and using current PHC infrastructure to build capacity for disasters.

Conclusions: Primary Health Care is very important for effective health emergency management during response and recovery, but also for risk reduction, including preparedness. There is need to; increase the quality of this research, clarify terminology, encourage paper authorship from LICs, develop and validate PHC- specific disaster indicators and to encourage organizations involved in PHC disaster activities to publish data. Lessons learned from high-income countries need contextual analysis about applicability in low-income countries.

(Received January 10 2011)

(Accepted February 11 2011)


c1 Correspondence: Lynda Redwood-Campbell, MD, CCFP, FCFP, DTMH, MPH Department of Family Medicine Faculty of Health Sciences McMaster University CANADA L8P OA1 E-mail:


Redwood-Campbell L, Abrahams J: Primary health care and disasters—The current state of the literature: What we know, gaps, and next steps. Prehosp Disaster Med 2011;26(3):186–193.