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News for the Week of October 12, 1999
October 12, 1999
Earthquake and Floods Hit Southern Mexico
An earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale and widespread flooding brought on by torrential rains have seriously affected 10 states in southern Mexico. At least 400 people have been killed and more than 200,000 left homeless by the flooding. An MSF team working in Oaxaca state is taking part in the relief operation. In Oaxaca, nearly 24,000 houses were partly damaged and 7,000 totally destroyed by the earthquake two weeks ago and now severe flooding has left hundreds of small villages and communities isolated. MSF is concentrating on bringing relief and medical care to the area around the coastal town of Puerto Escondido. The team has been assigned 3 out of 33 municipalities in the region. Medical teams consisting of local doctors, nurses, and health educators working with MSF were dispatched to these isolated villages beginning on Thursday, October 7. Before these recent emergencies, the MSF team was in Oaxaca working on improving the primary health care for the indigenous population of 56 villages in the Mixteca area.
Programs Expanding in East Timor
As the security situation improves, the MSF program on East Timor is expanding. In the capital Dili, MSF runs a health clinic and provides water and sanitation in the stadium where many returning displaced East Timorese have gathered. Returnees from West Timor also pass through the stadium clinic for medical screening. In addition to the medical intervention, the teams will start addressing shelter needs soon. In the city of Baucau, MSF has taken over the civilian hospital from the Philippine Interfet-contingent, and is working to establish in- and out-patient services. The team is also distributing plastic sheeting, jerrycans, blankets, and soap in Baucau and surroundings. MSF is assessing the situation in the villages around Baucau, and running two mobile clinics to assist vulnerable communities in the surrounding areas. The mobile teams have discoverd cases of malaria and a lot skin diseases in the outlying regions. In West Timor, the water and sanitation programs in the camps for displaced East Timorese around Kupang and Kefa are continuing and the medical program is further expanding.
Nutrition Situation in Parts of Southern Sudan Improving
The nutrition situation in Bahr el Ghazal province in sourthern Sudan has improved to the extent that it is possible for MSF to close feeding centers in Panthou, Tieraliet, and Ajak. "The humanitarian situation has stabilized enough in the last months with partial harvests replenishing the communities' food stocks," says country manager Marilyn McHarg. The feeding center in Tieraliet closed last week and Ajak is scheduled to close next week. Panthou will follow as soon as results of a nutrition survey are analyzed. In villages around Tieraliet, however, there have been nine suspected cases of measles. In response, MSF launched a vaccination campaign and vaccinated 1,400 children in two days last week. As the feeding centers close, the Bahr el Ghazal team will be reduced to four and continue to support primary health care units on a mobile basis. The support teams in Lokichokio and Nairobi will also be reduced.
Cholera Projects and Flood Assessment in Nigeria
Prompted by reports about high mortality rates due to cholera in Nigeria's Borno state at the end of September, the Nigernian health authorities asked MSF to start an intervention against the disease. MSF began combating the cholera epidemic in Nigeria last March. The outbreak in Borno is the most recent of a string of serious outbreaks. MSF carries out investigations of outbreaks in areas with an increase in the number of suspected cholera cases, provides training on case management and health education to local health facilities, and teaches local authorities how to chlorinate wells. A particularly high mortality rate of five percent was reported in the city of Gwoza. The team has converted part of Gwoza hospital into a cholera treatment center, and is training the staff on treatment methods and making sure that health care is delivered for free. The number of admissions is decreasing, but there are new reports of increasing numbers of suspected cholera cases in the Borno state. In addition to intervening in cholera outbreaks this week, MSF also organized an independent assessment of health needs following reports in the Nigerian media that several hundred villages along the banks of the Niger in central Nigeria were swept away when three dams were opened last week. MSF sent a reconnaissance flight over the affected area on Saturday to find that while there is considerable crop and structural damage, there is not a medical emergency in the region at this time. MSF will continue to monitor the situation.
Flooding in El Salvador
A state of emergency was declared in El Salvador last week due to torrential rains that have fallen for three weeks. The regions bordering Honduras and Guatemala, those worst hit by Hurricane Mitch last year, are particularly adversely affected. The Lempa and Paz rivers have flooded in a number of places. Since Hurricane Mitch, the Paz river has changed its course, so that floods now occur in areas that previously were seldom if ever affected. Nearly 1,000 families have now been evacuated. In the capital, San Salvador, 100 families have been evacuated from the slum areas built on the steep banks of several small rivers. The number of fatalities in the country is still fewer than 10, but some 5,000 people have been made homeless. "The effect of the rains this year is more serious than other years," says country manager Theo Kreuzen. "The ground is completely saturated. Furthermore, the country has still not recovered from Hurricane Mitch." Kreuzen does not yet have any reports of possible epidemics, but there is a relatively high risk. MSF has set up two water bladders and built special latrines for homeless people alongside the Lempa and Paz river, and is monitoring the possible outbreak of disease.