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Adapting to changing needs one month after the Indonesian earthquake

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Nearly one month after an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter Scale hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is focusing its efforts on the most affected area - the villages near Padang and Pariaman.

MSF has set up mobile clinics, is giving mental health support to the survivors, monitoring potential epidemic outbreaks, distributing relief items, as well as providing water and sanitation support.

MSF provides psychosocial support to people traumatised by the earthquake, and group or individual consultations are carried out for both adults and children who need more support. MSF has also arranged community activities especially for children, including playing sports as a form of therapy and release, and provides training to mental health care workers from the Ministry of Health.

“I worried a lot and had difficulty sleeping during the first two weeks after the earthquake, but I am getting better after a psychological consultation with MSF,” said Novaldi, 29, a villager of Lubuk Laweh near Pariaman, who lost six members of his family in the earthquake.

Besides the mental health activities, MSF continues to provide medical consultations from mobile clinics in the area around Pariaman where, otherwise, people receive little assistance. A few villages are still cut off by landslides and MSF can only reach them by walking or motorbike. More than 1,000 consultations have been carried out by MSF staff in the area since the earthquake struck.

On the other hand, MSF has been able to close the mobile clinic in Painam, further south near Padang, because the medical needs related with the earthquake have been covered.

“In an emergency, we need to be flexible and re-adapt our strategy to focus on the needs of population,” said Elisabetta Maria Faga, MSF Emergency Coordinator in Padang. At the moment, MSF has sent several teams to villages near Padang and Pariaman to follow the vaccination programmes that are being run by the local authority and supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The MSF teams will be assessing whether there is any need to have MSF’s support. MSF is also focusing on epidemiological surveillance and closely monitoring the number of communicable diseases, including measles and tetanus.

“Although the response of the government is high, the needs of the population are still huge,” said Loreto Barcelo, MSF’s Emergency Coordinator in Pariaman. MSF is now distributing relief material, including tarpaulins, blanket, mats, hygiene kits, kitchen kits, and tool kits. MSF teams plan to distribute these to 16,000 families in the district of Padang Pariaman and Pesisir Selatan close to Padang and to 10,000 families in villages near Pariaman by mid November.

MSF has provided water and sanitation support to the villages near Pariaman, and set up a camp with water-proof shelter for 90 families in the village of Kampung Panas near Pariaman, where there was a landslide.

MSF has more than 70 international and Indonesian staff working in Padang and Pariaman. The teams include doctors, nurses, psychologists, water and sanitation specialists, and logisticians.