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Mercy team stretched to the limit in Aceh

Sunday January 2, 2005

Mercy team stretched to the limit in Aceh

BANDA ACEH: When Mercy Malaysia’s doctors arrived in this stricken town on Dec 28, two days after the earthquake and tsunami disaster, they found the entrance of the military hospital strewn with some 480 bodies. 

“The smell was really bad. And there were so many patients needing help. So, the team called back immediately and said they couldn’t cope and that the situation was really bad,” said Mercy Malaysia president Datuk Dr Jemilah Mahmood. 

So, a second team was despatched. A third team will be coming soon, followed by a psychological intervention unit. 

Dr Jemilah, who had been on missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kosovo, Maluku, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Darfur and the Nias island said what she saw here was by far “the worst” catastrophe.  

All doctors, nurses, staff and patients of the four main hospitals here had perished in the tragedy and equipment destroyed. 

She said the only functioning hospital was the military hospital and even that did not have a blood bank or an x-ray unit. 

“It’s only a third-level district hospital meant for army personnel. It was not equipped for disasters. What we need now are emergency blood banks and x-ray units,” she said when met at the hospital where Mercy is operating its mission. 

She said while the nine-man Mercy team was working up to 4am every day to cope with the inflow of patients, they could have done better if they had enough antibiotics and oxygen. 

The Mercy team – the first international non-governmental organisation to arrive in Aceh – came with 300kgs of medical supplies. 

“All this finished within two days,” she said, adding that they were getting more supplies.  

She said some people who had sustained not-so-serious injuries during the earthquake and tsunami had gone to check on their family members to ensure that they were safe and ended up not tending to their own wounds. 

“When they come to the hospital, they have gangrene or wound sepsis which is bacteria in the wound. We had to amputate,” she said. 

She said there were many patients with pneumonia from near-drowning cases. 

IN THE THICK OF THINGS: Mercy Malaysia's Dr S.Panthirumavalavan giving typhoid vaccine to a boy in Banda Aceh.
“Many had taken in a lot of dirty water. There are going to be many respiratory problems,” she said. 

Dr Jemilah said she was really sad when a 12-year-old was brought into the hospital gasping. 

“He had not been given proper treatment earlier. And when he came to us, he was already in irreversible shock. He died at midnight. His name was Fitra Munanda. I will never forget that name. He is 12 and he reminded me of my son,” she said. 

One advantage that the Mercy team had, she pointed out, was that they could communicate easily with the people here as they spoke the same language. 

“But this also is a disadvantage because when you understand everything they say, you terasa (empathise) and emotionally, we are affected.”  

By bringing a bigger Mercy team in, she said, working hours for each member could be reduced and they could get enough rest.  

Mercy is bringing in six truckloads of rice, Indomie (instant noodles), sardine, cooking oil, three generators, diesel and medicine from Medan. 

Malaysians could help, she said, by donating basic items like clothes, sanitary napkins, headscarves, blankets, water, toothbrush and soap. 

“If they don’t look after their personal hygiene, it could give rise to other problems,” she said. 

The team is also in need of funds. 

“Our greatest challenge is fund raising. We recognise that our country suffered too but we hope people will also think of our neighbours. 

“I think we have a lot to contribute here. But how long we stay depends on how much funding we have. It’s horrible if operations depends on funding but we can’t carry on operating without funds,” she said. 

Earlier this morning, crowds gathered at the Mercy camp to get typhoid vaccines. 

  • If you have any real-life experience to share on this earthquake, please mail to newsdesk@thestar.com.my 

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