Dr. Wendy Dyment | Jul 30, 2008
MYANMAR - Cyclone Nargis swept through Myanmar May 2-4, 2008, killing an estimated 140,000 people and severely affecting 2.4 million. Dr. Wendy Dyment, Medical Teams International’s emergency health specialist, recently returned from six weeks in the country.
Dr. Wendy Dyment
[MYANMAR] Cyclone Nargis swept through Myanmar May 2-4, 2008, killing an estimated 140,000 people and severely affecting 2.4 million. Dr. Wendy Dyment, Medical Teams International’s emergency health specialist, recently returned from six weeks in the country.
“Raising awareness for this disaster is the greatest need,” she says. Working with our partners, World Concern, MAP International, Dorcas Aid International and others in the Global Relief Alliance (GRA), Medical Teams International has brought relief to approximately 50,000 people who were left without shelter, food or water. Below Dr. Dyment discusses the details of our response.
Q: Why Myanmar?
A: We’re part of a consortium of faith-based relief and development agencies called the Global Relief Alliance. It was this group that requested our assistance. I traveled to Myanmar via London and arrived at the end of May, four weeks after Cyclone Nargis hit. I assessed the health situation on the ground and helped plan our health response with local partners
Q: How much damage did Cyclone Nargis cause?
Cyclone Nargis left complete destruction in its wake. (Photo by Dr. Wendy Dyment)
A: It was shocking to see how much destruction there was and how much destruction still hadn’t been addressed more than two months later. In some areas whole villages were completely wiped out with absolutely nothing left standing. Trees, homes, buildings, health clinics—everything was gone. We traveled down the river and saw people’s clothes and belongings strewn in the bushes and trees. This disaster is on par with the Indian Ocean tsunami, but in many ways has become a forgotten crisis in the international community.
The needs are still so great and successful reconstruction will require a dedicated, long-term response.
Q: How have people been coping since the cyclone?
One of many temporary shelters in Yang Ayerwaddy, Myanmar. (Photo by Dr. Wendy Dyment)
A: Many families constructed temporary shelters from debris and tarps away from their original homes. The destruction was so overwhelming that it was easier for many survivors to settle in new locations.
The rainy season began in June so it was colder at night. One village illustrates the needs: 75 percent of the people living there did not have enough clothing and half reported they did not have adequate shelter or food to last more than a day. Many children seen were naked and frequently their families did not know where they would get their next meal. That’s how severe this disaster has been in some areas.
The survivors told me their stories as I traveled through villages to assess the situation. I met one 18-year-old woman who lost 16 of her relatives in a nearby town. Without the food assistance she received from one of our partners she doesn’t know how she would have survived.
“At the end of the day, people are living without their basic needs being met. We have to try to help them using creative solutions, which is what we’re doing.”
Q: How has the Global Relief Alliance worked together to meet these needs?
A: The GRA has delivered a multisectoral response, which ensures that people receive adequate health care, food, shelter, clothing and nonfood items during the recovery phase.
Medical Teams International is focusing on the health sector with:
- medical training.
- psychosocial support.
- shipments of medical supplies.
Q: Can you talk more about the details of our health response?
Dr. Dyment conducts a health assessment training for local doctors and nurses. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Wendy Dyment)
A: I recruited and trained 20 doctors and nurses to work with survivors while I was in Myanmar. These workers have medical training but had never worked in disaster response before. We trained them on how to carry out a health assessment and then respond with basic treatment guidelines using standard essential drugs. The most common illnesses following this disaster are respiratory infections, diarrhea, malaria dengue, skin infections and in rare cases, outbreaks of potentially deadly diseases like measles and cholera. We discussed ways to identify outbreaks and curb their spread.
This was definitely the most effective way to expand our delivery of health care. These health care workers know the language and will use these skills to help their people recover from this disaster. They’ll also continue working in the health field for years to come and will share their knowledge with others. It is much easier for them to move from village to village as well since they do not have to obtain visas or special permissions.
Much of the humanitarian aid has been delivered to remote villages by boat. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Wendy Dyment)
We’ve also shipped two emergency health kits in partnership with MAP International to our Myanmar teams. These kits have enough medical supplies and medicines to treat 20,000 people for three months. They contain basic primary and secondary care medicines, IV materials, delivery supplies and wound care treatment.
In addition to health worker training and medical supplies, we’ve also begun to work with local partners to deliver psychosocial support to cyclone survivors. Several pastor groups requested support in this area since they want to be able to help their communities cope with their overwhelming feelings of loss. A local Myanmar group and its psychosocial expert are currently training community leaders in culturally appropriate responses. We’re also working on translating a children’s book into the local language to assist children in their emotional healing after the cyclone.
Q: How will Medical Teams International continue to help in the coming months?
A: In collaboration with our GRA partners, we are implementing a six-to-nine-month health response. We have hired a full-time medical coordinator in Myanmar who will supervise the newly recruited and hired health staff. They will target four of the hardest hit areas. Together, this group will provide curative and preventive health care, while working alongside other GRA partners who are providing food, shelter, water and livelihoods support.
Medical Teams International will continue to support the local staff as well as assist with the provision of medicines and other essential supplies. If the access situation improves, we'll consider sending volunteers.
Q: How can we best pray for the survivors?
Despite their immense losses, the children still smile. (Photo by Dr. Wendy Dyment)
A: Pray that people will not forget their situation. Pray the survivors will continue to receive the assistance they need over the long term. And finally, pray that this might be an opportunity for barriers between political, religious and ethnic groups to break down so aid is available to everyone, regardless of their societal standing.