Japan: MSF Continues to Respond to Chronic Diseases for the Elderly in Evacuation Centers

MSF is providing medical consultations in evacuation centers in Minami Sanriku, where some 10,000 people are housed in 20 locations.

Japan 2011 © Yozo Kawabe/MSF

Dr. Yoshitaka Nakagawa consults with a patient at an evacuation center in Kesennuma.

For the past seven days, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been providing medical consultations in evacuation centers in Minami Sanriku, where around 10,000 people are housed in 20 locations.

Dr. Yoshitaka Nakagawa returned on Saturday night after spending a week in the northeast with teams that hiked into remote communities heavily hit by the earthquake and tsunami. One patient he met was a 70-year-old man suffering chronic renal failure whose condition was deteriorating because he was unable to reach a clinic with hemodialysis machines.

“Fortunately, his family had been caring for him since the quake and doing everything within their power to help him by checking his weight and blood sugar levels and making sure his appetite and activities were maintained,” said Dr. Nakagawa. He was able to prescribe the man the correct medication and provided an adapted treatment to stabilize him for the time being. Another mobile MSF team will follow-up with the case in the coming days.

Two MSF mobile teams are working in Minami Sanriku. Another team has been assessing communities between Kesennuma and Miyako on the northeast coastline. MSF is considering starting activities for elderly patients in Miyako and will now assess the situation in Rikuzentakada as well.

The situation in areas seen by MSF’s team in northern Miyagi prefecture is evolving quickly, as the massive national relief effort clears access to areas and large quantities of relief supplies continue to come in.

The main issues seen by the MSF doctors remain chronic diseases in what is largely an elderly population.

As members of MSF’s 12-person mobile team continue to provide medical consultations in evacuation centers in the affected area, MSF is listening and responding to the specific needs of evacuees, including requirements for supplies of personal hygiene items such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and towels.

“Living conditions are still difficult,” said Emmanuel Goue, the emergency coordinator for the project. “There is overcrowding in some of the evacuation centers, and after a week since the initial disaster people can be in need of personal hygiene items.”

Goue added: “In the coming days we are planning to distribute these items directly to evacuation centers for approximately 10,000 people in the Minami Sanriku region, on top of our medical activities.”

A psychologist also joined the team in the northeast on Saturday to assess whether there is a need fir MSF to increase its response and understand what resources exist on the ground.

“Elderly people are more vulnerable to this kind of situation,” said MSF psychologist Ritsuko Nishimae. “They are experiencing intense trauma following the earthquake and tsunami. However, mid-term trauma also presents when elderly people are evacuated from their homes to a new location. Most people have the capacity to adapt to new living circumstances, but for the elderly it’s far more difficult and they require more time.”

Before the earthquake last week, MSF in Japan had around 40 people working in the Tokyo office. Five additional people have joined the office in the capital to work on the emergency.