Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Emergency Relief (27th report)
Assistance for healthcare and nutrition

[TOKYO, Japan, 7 April 2011]

The Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU) continues to implement healthcare and nutrition-related assistance activities in the disaster area. Nearly four weeks have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and needs at the disaster area are now changing from emergency care medical services to mid- to long-tem health, medical and welfare activities for the vulnerable, including for pregnant women, infants and elderly people.

Assistance needed now

© Japan Committee for UNICE
Dr. Osamu Kunii from the UNICEF Somalia Office.

Dr. Osamu Kunii from the UNCIEF Somalia Office is implementing assistance activities for the Japan Committee of UNICEF in Miyagi Prefecture. From his discussions with health officials from municipal governments, healthcare aid workers and disaster victims, Dr. Kunii says that the future challenge will be “assistance disparity.” While aid such as food and medical care tends to amass at shelters where large numbers of people gather, adequate assistance is not reaching disaster victims living at smaller shelters or houses with bad access. Moreover, while the restoration of lifelines continues to be delayed, nutritional deficiencies will result as people continue to consume instant noodles and other instant food products. This causes canker sores, skin inflammations and clearly apparent worsening of conditions for patients with underlying illnesses.

Furthermore, the local medical care staff has been working in harsh conditions since the earthquake occurred. Dr. Kunii told us about the situation of health nurses at city hall in Sanriku City, Miyagi Prefecture.

“Since the earthquake, one health nurse from Sanriku City Hall, Miyagi Prefecture, has remained on-site, providing continuous assistance for disaster victims, including medical care, nursing, and aid for pregnant women and infants. Her family is safe, but she has lost all of her relatives, house, car—everything. Her place of work, City Hall, has also collapsed. Moreover, she is also a disaster victim herself and must complete procedures for securing living arrangements, but now she is prioritizing putting everything she has into saving other victims first. When I told her to take a break, she told me ‘I can’t rest when I know that other disaster victims are still suffering.’”

A coordination and communications framework based around municipal governments must be created in order to facilitate healthcare assistance. However, all of the personnel from the city offices and town offices, which would serve as the cornerstone for such a network, as well as other healthcare personnel are also suffering from the disaster. Furthermore, there are areas where the city and town office buildings have been completely destroyed and city nurses are dead or missing. There are even places where items necessary for coordinating care have been lost, such as copiers or computers with information on automobiles used for paying medical visits, pregnant patients and other patients that require care.

Assistance from Japan Committee for UNICEF

In response to this situation, comprehensive healthcare and nutritional measures and assistance are necessary to serve all disaster victims in the disaster area as well as in shelters. JCU intends to cooperate on reconstructing a mid- to long-term healthcare system as quickly as possible that would include: providing technical, physical and monetary assistance to prefectural, city and town governments; conducting surveys on the situation at shelters that are difficult to access; supplying food supplements and vitamin-enriched rice to those with nutritional deficiencies; enhancing cooperative structures for providing health, medical and welfare services; and providing vaccinations and medical checkups for infants and pregnant women.

Collaborating with partners

Collaboration with partners is a vital part of assistance in the field of healthcare. JCU is providing medical assistance for disaster victims, and particularly mothers and children, through Humanitarian Medical Assistance (HuMA), the Japan Primary Care Association and others.

Temporary Evacuation Project for Infants

© Temporary Evacuation Project for Infants
Momoko, with her glowing smile, is great at drawing and hopes to be a cartoonist one day. The photo was taken at a temporary shelter in Yuzawa Town, Minamiuonuma, Niigata Prefecture.

For the Temporary Evacuation Project for Infants, a temporary shelter was set up at the Hotel Angel Grandia, located in Yuzawa Town, Minamiuonuma, Niigata Prefecture. At the shelter, psychological assistance is provided for the mothers and children of families that have been forced to evacuate Sanriku Town in Miyagi Prefecture as well as areas affected by the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, in addition to families from Fukushima prefecture that are seeking refuge at shelters in Tokyo and Saitama. Jun Okanoya, an emergency care specialist from HuMA, an NPO conducting activities in collaboration with JCU, told us about the situation at the shelter:

“The situation at the disaster area changes every day. At the municipal government building I discussed a future schedule with the General Affairs Section Manager and the Health and Welfare Section Manager and then went to the public hall where procedures for receiving disaster victims are being carried out. There I saw the supplies that had been delivered from the people of the town. There are already about 1,000 people living in refuge in Yuzawa Town from Fukushima Prefecture, and they are all people that were able to come here with their families by car. Further, the situation was rather calm and the staff received everyone with kind smiles on their faces.”

“Under the Temporary Evacuation Project for Infants, pediatricians as well as supporting doctors from HuMA have traveled to the shelter, in addition to volunteers that play with the children and talk with the mothers. Slowly but surely families are beginning to regain their shape. I am proud to be a part of a project implemented by HuMA, JCU and UNICEF.” While coordinating with the local government, JCU is providing assistance by surveying the local needs and bringing in vehicles and other equipment so that medical staff working at these sites is able to continue their operations in a smooth manner.