News for the Week of March 23, 1998
March 23, 1998
80,000 Tibetan Nomads Face Crisis: Aftermath of Harsh Winter
MSF has launched an emergency operation to distribute food and medical aid to 80,000 Tibetan nomads in Yushu Prefecture in the province of Qinghai, China. Violent snowstorms and severely cold temperatures-as low as 40 degrees below zero Celsius-have put this population in severe danger due to the widespread starvation of their livestock. Without assistance, they lack the resources to survive past the month of May.
More than 200,000 yaks, the principal resource for the survival of the Tibetan population, have died, according to local authorities, because icy ground has prevented the yaks from grazing. The Tibetan nomads rely on yaks not only for meat but for milk, clothing, shelter, and fuel. The current crisis comes at a time when the population is still reeling from damage caused by similar weather during the winter of 1995-1996.
MSF will transport enough food and medicine from Xining, the capital of Qinghai, to the affected villages to ensure the population's survival until spring. A 9-person MSF team will coordinate the intervention, which will take place over one month.
World TB Day: March 24, 1998
In 1998, for the first time, World TB Day will be observed as an official United Nations holiday. TB spreads without borders so MSF is making a concerted global effort to isolate and control TB in 25 countries.
Tuberculosis (TB) kills more adults each year than any other infectious disease. Responsible for more deaths than AIDS, malaria, and other tropical diseases combined, TB kills 50,000 people each week and 3 million people a year. Over one-third of the world's population is now infected with asymptomatic TB, and 30 million people may die from TB in the next 10 years. Once virtually eliminated in industrialized nations TB is now on the rise again in industrialized, as well as developing countries, in new and even deadlier forms.
MSF fights TB in some of the world's most isolated places among some of the most neglected populations. One of these situations is a prison colony in Siberia where an MSF team has set up an effective and innovative TB program. In 1996, MSF launched a TB control project in Colony 33, part of a prison hospital in Mariinsk, Russia, a city of 47,000 residents. Mariinsk is inhabited by 25,000 prisoners from all over Russia. Colony 33 is where all prisoners from the area with TB are sent. Built for 750 patients, Colony 33 houses 1,950 prisoners. For several years the colony had not received sufficient drugs, and when released, 95 percent of the prisoners were still infectious. Dr. Hans Kluge, the MSF project coordinator, was shocked by the prison living conditions. "Men crowd so closely together at night to stay warm," he said, "that their skin peels away from the friction." By the end of 1997, MSF was treating 1,300 patients through a DOTS program. "Before we came, 4 or 5 prisoners were dying each day," Dr. Kluge stated. "Now it's down to one or two a week, usually those with drug-resistant TB."
Thailand: Refugee Camp in Mae Sod Burned to the Ground
On March 11, 1998, the Wangka camp for Karen refugees in Mae Sod, Thailand, was burned down allegedly by the Burmese rebel group DKBA (Democratic Karen Buddist Army). This is the second time in the past year that the camp has been attacked. After the attacks, MSF volunteers provided medical assistance and distributed food and supplies. To continue to meet the medical needs of the refugees, the volunteers set up a temporary clinic in one of the surviving school buildings. A survey of the damage estimates that as many as 7,300 people, 80 percent of the camp's families, have lost their homes. Many of the refugees have now returned to the camp and are building rudimentary shelters out of salvaged tin sheeting and thatch. MSF teams have opened and chlorinated wells, and water tanks have been set up for drinking water.
For the last 10 years, MSF has run a medical program in this region, providing assistance to 60,000 refugees of the Karen ethnic group. The organization also provides assistance to displaced people from the Mon ethnic group3/4who live on both sides of the Burmese border.
Kosovo Rocked by Fighting: MSF Seeks Access to Victims
MSF teams are working in Kosovo, a province of the Yugoslav Republic, currently rocked by the recent massacre of ethnic Albanians, known as Kosovars. The team, based in Kosovo's capital Pristina, is providing drugs and medical supplies to health structures in and around the affected region. The volunteers have also distributed blankets, winter clothing and food to the local population.
MSF currently runs three programs in Kosovo which focus on improving access to health care and clean water supplies. The team distributes medicine and medical equipment, provides training courses for local health workers, and conducts epidemiological surveillance. The team, consisting of five volunteers, provide s drugs and medical equipment to 42 Mother Theresa health centers and 30 state facilities. Eighty percent of the drugs that these clinics distribute come from MSF. Because only 40 percent of the population in Kosovo has access to a clean water supply. The situation is so potentially dangerous, MSF launched a water and sanitation program in 1996, providing logistical support to 13 villages trying to overhaul their water and sanitation systems.
Emergency Surgery in Sri Lanka
MSF Volunteer Diary Appears in Self Magazine. Titled "A Surgeon's Notes From a War Zone," Dr. Margo Aswad's journal detailing her experiences in Sri Lanka appears in the March issue of Self. At the age of 34, Dr. Aswad joined MSF and found herself practicing medicine on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka in the midst of 15-year-old civil war . An excerpt from her journal tells her story, that of a young women who left her life in upstate New York to heal the wounds of war and fight disease. She found that though her living situation was often difficult the rewards were overwhelming. Says Aswad:
Wednesday, April 2
"Within three days of being here, everyone knows who you are. Although they can't speak much English, their smiles seem to say, 'Thank you for being here . . .' I had such an incredible feeling today -it gives me goose bumps even as I write."