- About Us
- Our Work
- Work With MSF
- Public Events
- Press Room
The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 devastated the northeastern coast of Honshu Island. Approximately 15,000 people were killed and 6,000 were injured. At the end of the year, some 5,000 people were still missing.
Japanese emergency teams were largely able to respond to the needs of survivors, and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) offered specialist assistance. The day after the quake and tsunami, staff made their way to affected areas by helicopter and began providing survivors with medical care and distributing relief items.
In the weeks that followed, MSF distributed 4,030 blankets, 6,500 liters of water, a generator for a temporary shelter in Baba-Nakayama village and 10,000 hygiene kits containing soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels. MSF also provided kits containing batteries, candles and matches to some 4,000 people and donated 110,000 euros’ (136,000 USD) worth of medicines, medical equipment and supplies.
Ensuring access to medical care
MSF worked principally in the northern coastal towns of Minami Sanriku and Taro, where the main healthcare facilities were totally destroyed. From March to June, medical teams conducted some 4,840 consultations. Patients’ main complaints were hypertension and upper respiratory tract infections.
MSF delivered two 30-seater buses to authorities in Minami Sanriku to help transport patients from evacuation centers and temporary housing to medical facilities. At the request of people staying in a centre in Baba-Nakayama, MSF designed and helped construct a semi-permanent shelter close by. The team supervised 25 evacuees, who built a private space for approximately 30 women and children, which reduced overcrowding in the existing center.
In Taro, MSF designed and built a temporary clinic, for use until a more permanent structure is completed. This was handed over to local health authorities in December. MSF also delivered a vehicle specifically designed to transport disabled patients living in and around Taro.
After the initial emergency response, the team shifted focus to the mental health needs of survivors, offering psychological support, especially for people living in evacuation centers.
MSF psychologists carried out activities to raise awareness of mental health issues and the support that was available. Staff conducted interviews with the media, including a local radio station set up by survivors of the disaster. They discussed how to identify potential problems and manage stress, how parents can help their children, and where to seek support. MSF staff accompanied nurses on visits to temporary shelters and provided direct training in mental health during consultations with patients. They also visited schools to advise teachers on supporting children post-trauma.
In April, a café was set up near the Bayside Arena of Minami Sanriku. Here, people could talk in an informal setting, with a team of MSF psychologists on hand to provide counseling. For those in need of extra support, staff offered one-to-one sessions.
The main problems reported by people at the café related to stress management, difficulties with memory and concentration, and sleeping disorders due to crowded conditions in temporary housing. Older people were often concerned about dementia.
At the end of June, MSF handed over its activities at the café to a local association. More than 4,100 people had used the space, and 646 people had received psychological assistance. Over 970 individual support sessions and 295 group sessions were held in Minami Sanriku and Taro.
During 2011, MSF had 4 field staff in Japan. This was the first time MSF had provided medical assistance in the country.