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Averting a Post-Tsunami Medical Emergency in Sri Lanka
January 19, 2005
January 19, 2005 - Tonia Marquardt, MD, is a veteran Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) volunteer who has eight missions, of which five were emergency missions, under her belt. She was dispatched on December 31, 2004 to Sri Lanka, where she served as a field coordinator for the Trincomalee emergency on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka.
Dr. Marquardt arrived in Trincomalee on January 1 with a logistician and a nurse to conduct a preliminary assessment of the region, which had been badly affected by the tsunami. They were joined the following day by another doctor, a midwife, and a second logistician. The assessment comprised of evaluating the medical, logistical and water sanitation needs of the population. The first day was spent in meetings with other international organizations, including the Red Cross and Oxfam, to gather information relating to the impact of the tsunami on the region. The team then organized mobile clinics throughout the district to get a first-hand sense of the impact, and determined that the area most in need was in the Kuchchaveli district. The medical needs related to upper respiratory tract infections and the common cold, cut wounds, skin diseases, and a few cases of diarrhea and pneumonia.
Shortly after their arrival, the team was informed by locals that landmines had been found around the hospital. The mines had been lifted by the force of the incoming waves and moved from a nearby military base to settle near the hospital grounds. The MSF team, as well as the local population, left the premises of the hospital, and alerted a de-mining organization to have the mines removed.
MSF's overall assessment was that there were less medical needs than originally believed. The local health system was effective even before the tsunami hit, and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health’s response to the crisis was excellent. Due to this rapid response, the likelihood of epidemics was diminished. Another factor contributing to reduced morbidity rates was the reaction to the crisis by the local community, which had rallied around their neighbors, and took care of their family, friends, and neighbors. The overall response from local government, nongovernmental organizations, community organizations, and international governments was fast and thorough enough, that a post-tsunami medical emergency crisis was averted.