Thanks to the immediate mobilization of its national staff in Myanmar, MSF has been able to respond quickly and efficiently to the needs of victims of Cyclone Nargis. However, given the scale of the disaster and the specific skills required for such a response, MSF has hired and trained dozens of additional doctors, nurses, logisticians and water and sanitation officers.
Sitting on benches outside the MSF office, a dozen young nationals from Myanmar are meticulously filling in application forms. Doctors, nurses, engineering specialists, men and women, all want to go to the Irrawady Delta and "help their people". After interviews, the most qualified and motivated are chosen to undergo a training session before joining one of the MSF teams in the Delta.
"Although we had a large number of national staff available, we needed more to respond to such dramatic consequences", said Souheil Reaiche, MSF Head of Mission in Myanmar. "Our original staff have now been working in very difficult conditions for a month and we also have to set up staff rotations. In addition, we also need them in our regular programs to continue providing medical care to patients with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria."
Since the second week after the cyclone, MSF has trained over 20 medical doctors, 10 nurses, 30 water and sanitation and logistics officers.
"For doctors and nurses, the main objective is to prepare them for the conditions they will face in the field," explained Scott Brown, an Australian doctor in charge of medical training. "This kind of emergency requires a specific training on assessing the needs of the population in terms of food and shelter, nutritional screening for children under five-year-old, disease surveillance, etc."
Over four days, the newly hired staff are also taught about MSF protocols for treating the most common diseases now found in the Delta including waterborne diseases, respiratory infections, malaria, dengue fever and malnutrition.
One of the biggest needs of the affected population, beside food, is access to clean and drinkable water. In many areas of the Delta, ponds, wells and other water sources have been filled with salt water and mud.
The villagers have lost most of the containers they used to collect water. MSF teams have so far distributed nearly 40,000 buckets and jerry-cans and have started cleaning ponds in tens of villages. At the same time, back in Yangon newly recruited engineers and technicians take part in a two day training session run by MSF to learn how to make a survey on water sources in a village, how to purify water and test its clarity and quality, how to teach villagers about the importance of boiling water and making sure it does not get re-infected.
A model water and sanitation camp has been set up in the garden of MSF's office in Yangon, with water tanks and water collection systems, for the trainees to directly practice what they have been taught.
As MSF has sent hundreds of tons of food and relief material to the Delta, distribution and logistics are one of the biggest challenges the organization has been facing. Logisticians from Myanmar, trained by MSF, have learnt how to manage a warehouse and ensure all stocks are accounted for.
"I came to MSF because I wanted to help the victims", said Mo, 23, a mechanical engineer who trained in water and sanitation, and is about to go to Bogaley, in the Delta. "Our main priority is to prevent water-borne diseases and I hope we can do well on this when I go to the villages".