This paper examines the considerable medical and psychological problems that ensue after disasters in which massive populations are affected for extended and sometimes unknown time periods. The organization of disaster response teams after large-scale disasters is based on experiences as a medical specialist at Chernobyl immediately after this catastrophe. Optimal ways of dealing with the immediate medical and logistical demands as well as long-term public health problems are explored with a particular focus on radiation disasters. Other lessons learned from Chernobyl are explained.
Current concerns involve the constant threat of a disaster posed by aging nuclear facilities and nuclear and chemical disarmament activities. The strategies that have been used by various groups in responding to a disaster and dealing with medical and psychological health effects at different disaster stages are evaluated. The emergence of specialized centers in the former Soviet Union to study long-term health effects after radiation accidents are described. Worldwide, there has been relatively little attention paid to mid- and long-term health effects, particularly the psychological stress effects. Problems in conducting longitudinal health research are explored.
The use of a mobile diagnostic and continuously operating pre-hospital triage system for rapid health screening of large populations at different stages after a large-scale disaster is advisable. The functional systems of the body to be observed at different stages after a radiation disaster are specified. There is a particularly strong need for continued medical and psychosocial evaluation of radiation-exposed populations over an extended time and a need for international collaboration among investigators.