Mentawai tsunami survivors suffer health problems

Rangga D. Fadillah, The Jakarta Post, Mentawai | Sat, 11/06/2010 11:32 AM | The Archipelago

For tens of Mentawai tsunami survivors being treated at two health centers, their suffering is far from over.

More than a week after the disaster struck on Oct. 25, over half of the tsunami survivors currently treated at the Sikakap district’s community health center and the district’s Protestant church suffer from respiration problems due to poor conditions.

Medical worker Samsul Hayat, a nurse at the church-turned medical post, said that many patients at
the health center and the church were evacuated from their refugee camps after showing symptoms of lung problems.

On Thursday teams at the medical posts found a patient who tested positive for pneumonia and another suspected of having tuberculosis (TB).

The two Sikakap district medical posts — the centers of relief operations for tsunami victims in Mentawai Islands regency in West Sumatra — were treating 32 patients with various kinds of diseases, from open wounds to severe fever.

On Sunday, a two-day-old baby was evacuated by a West Sumatera Police helicopter to a hospital in the province capital of Padang due to acute respiratory problems. The helicopter evacuated the baby and his mother because the Sikakap medical posts did not have the proper facilities to treat the baby.

The main causes of the outbreak of respiratory problems among patients were chilly nights and poor sanitation at refugee camps scattered near the 24 hardest-hit hamlets in the islands, Samsul said.

“The lack of doctors and medical workers at refugee camps has made things worse for sick people. Lack of treatment complicates their diseases,” he told The Jakarta Post while preparing medicine for patients at the church.

Another medical worker, Putri Linggogeni, said that one of her patients was in the water for about an hour after the tsunami devastated his hamlet, but he did not receive proper medical treatment because there was no doctor in the hamlet.

The patient had to be evacuated from his village to the medical post several days ago because of severe lung malfunction, she said.

Helemia, a 63-year-old patient at the church, suffered from respiratory problems after swallowing water when the tsunami swept his house in Muntei Baru-Baru hamlet.

“For the next two days, I slept under the sky, without a tent or blanket, with only soil and a rock to lean on,” he said through a translator at the medical post.

Food scarcity in tsunami-hit hamlets also increased the risk of the spread of diseases, as people faced with poor nutrition were not able to maintain antibodies to keep their bodies strong, she said.

To avoid the spread of lung diseases, such as pneumonia and TB, infected patients at the main medical posts should be treated in separate rooms, Samsul said, adding that this was necessary because some diseases spread through the air.

“We need an isolation room for patients with contagious diseases,” he emphasized.

However, the limited number of rooms at the medical posts did not allow the medical team to separate all patients, he said.

Data from the Sikakap district Disaster Mitigation Center shows the tsunami has claimed 437 lives as of Thursday, and the number of displaced people is still more than 14,000. The data also lists 62 others as still missing.

Storms and heavy seas have slowed distribution of aid to tsunami survivors. Distribution efforts have been completely reliant on helicopters as the sole means of reaching tsunami-affected coastal areas.

The government would distribute 130,000 tons of rice on Friday to tsunami survivors, Mentawai Islands regional government spokesman Sermon Sakerebau said.

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