October 08, 2009

Just 10 days after an earthquake struck Sumatra Island, a large amount of aid is already coming in. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is therefore focusing efforts on the most neglected areas. Some heavily affected villages are still very difficult to access and others that are farther away from the epicenter have received little assistance. MSF teams have started to run mobile clinics in those areas and are providing mental health support to the survivors. They have also initiated the distribution of relief items and are setting up water distribution points.

“A massive amount of aid is coming in and most of the region affected by the earthquake is receiving assistance,” says Renzo Fricke, MSF emergency coordinator. “Therefore, we try to identify gaps, focusing on the people that have received little or no aid, and trying to address uncovered needs.”

One of these areas is Padang Alai, a hilly region where several villages and roads were swept away by landslides. Aid is slow to arrive there, as it has to be brought by motorbike or by foot. MSF has started to distribute relief items such as blankets, plastic sheeting, and jerry cans to victims in the area and will extend these operations to more villages in the coming days.

Another team is intervening south of Padang, a region that was less affected by the quake and for that same reason remains mostly neglected by relief efforts. MSF, in cooperation with local health authorities, has started mobile clinics in two villages in the area and will extend activities to three other villages. More mobile clinics have also started operating in the area surrounding the coastal city of Pariaman.

Although life-saving interventions are mostly over, the thousands of people who have lost their homes and belongings require medical attention. “Many people live now in the open; they live in poor hygiene conditions and have little access to clean water. We can expect many respiratory tract infections, diarrhea, and other pathologies that result from these poor living conditions,” says Loreto Barceló, MSF medical doctor.

In the most affected areas, many victims are traumatized. Most villagers have lost their homes, their belongings, and often family members. MSF psychologists are carrying out group psycho-education sessions, where they explain simple ways of coping with such a traumatic experience. For the most severe cases, the MSF psychologists have started to offer counseling support.

In the area affected by the earthquake, MSF has deployed almost 80 workers, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, logisticians, and water and sanitation experts, both international and Indonesian. A cargo plane with 43 tons of material, including medical kits, drugs, logistical, and relief material has already arrived, and more material is being purchased locally.