Since 1998, International Medical Corps has worked alongside the Ministry of Health in Kenya to implement a variety of programs in underserved communities throughout the country, including health care, nutrition, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS prevention care and treatment, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Using a multi-pronged approach, International Medical Corps’ programs not only provide relief, but also enable self-reliance through education and training.
In 2007, International Medical Corps began work in the semi-arid regions of northern Kenya, including Samburu District, where water is very scarce and women and children walk miles to collect water on a daily basis. Samburu suffers from uneven rain across the district during the four months of rainy season. The people of Samburu are nomadic pastoralists, dependent on livestock and access to water for their livelihoods. Failure to obtain sufficient water for grazing livestock can mean the difference between life and death. The drought and famine crisis in 2011 created an emergency in Samburu, and the region has been fragile ever since. With support from generous donors, International Medical Corps is continuing its work in Samburu District and the region, aimed at improving provision of access to adequate and quality water, improving access to adequate and quality sanitation facilities to vulnerable community members, and improving the health and nutrition status of mothers and children.
In several rural primary schools in Samburu, International Medical Corps is implementing integrated activities aimed at improving the sanitation and hygiene of young children. Lolkunyian Primary School serves 247 students, drawing students from up to a three-hour walk away. Before International Medical Corps’ intervention, the male and female students had to share only three latrines, with no available hand washing stations and no access for disabled students. In response, International Medical Corps recently built two blocks of same-sex latrines, with three to four standard stalls and one stall specifically for persons with disabilities. Additionally, a hand washing station and water harvesting system has been installed to further promote hygiene-related health.
In Donyo Wasin Primary School, which serves 340 students, International Medical School has encouraged the formation of a Health Club to improve the hygiene practices of the students as well as the surrounding community. The Health Club, which is made up of 58 students (30 male and 28 female) from grades one through eight, performs songs and plays which teach sanitation and hygiene techniques for fellow students and the community. As a result of these activities, International Medical Corps has noted significant improvements in beneficiaries’ health, with fewer students visiting the school nurse with complaints of water related illnesses and a decrease in the practice of open defecation in the community.
In Nkutoto, villagers from the surrounding area travel great distances, particularly in the dry season, to reach the only viable water source that is located in the mountains. Unfortunately, this natural spring is unprotected, and is frequently contaminated by wild animal and livestock waste when they use the spring to drink. This contamination resulted in a small-scale cholera outbreak in 2013. After consulting with the community and the Ministry of Health, International Medical Corps constructed a pipeline to bring the water down the mountain, and is currently constructing a cover for the natural spring to protect it from future contamination. With the newly constructed water tap, the community no longer has to walk up the mountain, often with livestock in tow, to reach the water source.
Although the drought crisis has largely passed, International Medical Corps continues to engage the vulnerable population of Samburu District with water, sanitation, and hygiene programs designed to address both their immediate and long-term needs. International Medical Corps’ program is providing schools with improved sanitary facilities and promotion of appropriate hygiene practices, with the help of the health clubs, which will help to improve the quality of life of the children and the teachers, contribute to decreasing school dropout, and reduce communicable diseases such as diarrhea. In addition, the improved water sources, combined with training on how to protect and manage them, will help ensure a modest yet sustainable water supply for the community, improving the lives of mothers and children in this extremely water-scare environment.
One of the most powerful typhoons on record, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last November and left widespread devastation affecting an estimated 16 million men, women and children, including displacing some 4.4 million people. International Medical Corps was on the ground within 24 hours of Typhoon Haiyan making landfall, providing emergency medical services to some of the most remote communities, many of which had yet to receive relief or health care. Rapid needs assessments revealed that Typhoon Haiyan severely damaged infrastructure, including homes, buildings and power lines; disrupted water supplies; and destroyed livelihoods, especially fishing and agriculture. There was substantial structural damage in rural health centers and village health offices and the storm destroyed stockpiles, creating a severe shortage of supplies and medicines critical to delivering health care.
Because an immediate challenge when responding to a disaster is to provide mobile medical teams with the medical resources and pharmaceuticals to treat survivors, International Medical Corps works with multiple partners to quickly secure donations of quality medicine and supplies. As International Medical Corps deployed an Emergency Response Team, one of our international partners reached out to offer immediate help in the form of Doctor Travel Packs. With their support, we flew one pallet of nine Doctors Travel Packs into our Logistics hub in Cebu immediately, and then followed with a second shipment of nine more Packs a few weeks later.
Each Doctor Travel Pack is made up of two boxes that are loaded with enough primary care medicine, such as antibiotics, antifungals, anti-inflammatories, to treat approximately 1,000 people. We also utilized Interagency Emergency Health Kits, which are slightly larger and are made up of a larger variety of medicines, including medical equipment, and are intended to treat up to 10,000 people for a period of three months. With donor support, International Medical Corps was able to deploy a total of 9 Doctor Travel Packs which reached 9,000 people and 5 Emergency Health Kits with provided health facilities with medicines to treat up to 50,000 people both during and after the disaster.
One of the underserved areas International Medical Corps focused on was the Philippine island province of Leyte. Three months after Typhoon Yolanda hit the Visayas Region, Nurse Evangeline Matoza of the MacArthur, Leyte Rural Health Unit (RHU) describes the challenges that her facility faced in caring for the 19,000 citizens of her city. “Right after the Typhoon hit,” Nurse Matoza says, “we went to the places where our patients had been evacuated… to the high school and the municipal hall. There were so many people that needed care, mostly for lacerations and other open wounds.”
Yet while the number of patients increased, Nurse Matoza and her colleagues were faced with dwindling supplies: “The main problem was the drug supply -- we consumed our supply of antibiotics and the first aid supplies within three days.” Relief came through government and NGO systems, but the health workers at MacArthur RHU still struggled to keep up with the high demand for health care supplies. “A few days after the typhoon, we received our first shipment of much-needed drugs and water purifiers,” she says, “but it was still not enough.”
“That’s why we were so grateful when the mobile medical units started,” Nurse Matoza continues. “International Medical Corps and other NGOs really helped ease the burden on us. When your teams came, they would go directly to the barangays (communities), and reach the injured people that we could not reach.” As her community moves from emergency response to building a more sustainable recovery, Nurse Matoza is grateful for the ongoing support of organizations like International Medical Corps: “You gave us supplies that we are still using to care for our patients. We need to do this to heal our community.”
With the Philippines, International Medical Corps was able to dispatch medical treatments for thousands of patients within a week, only because of the generosity of donors that enabled us to ship these resources quickly and directly to the hardest-hit areas. From November 15 – December 19, International Medical Corps’ teams also delivered and distributed more than $1,900,000 worth of medicine and medical supplies to support these health care services through the mobile and permanent health care facilities.
Pre-positioning of funding dedicated to medical supply shipments enables us to move as quickly as possible, and although most of the supplies we use to meet the needs of disaster-stricken people are donated, it is often necessary to raise money to cover the cost of shipping and deploying the materials to disaster zones. Donations made for disaster relief through fundraising vehicles such as Global Giving enable us to respond rapidly to the next emergency, ensuring that as our mobile medical teams trek across disaster zones, they’ve got the medicines and supplies they need to truly make a difference when it matters most.
International Medical Corps and the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) Japan continue to partner with each other to provide local Japanese non-profit organizations with the knowledge needed to increase their capacity to support People with Disabilities (PWDs) in the aftermath of an emergency. Special programs for PWDs focusing on disaster preparedness are very important in Japan, because the mortality rate for PWDs was more than double that of the average person during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Given this startling figure, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan are working to help ensure PWDs are better prepared to respond effectively to a disaster, wherever they may find themselves at the time.
Since disaster preparedness advice in Japan is often directed at the general public without taking into account the particular vulnerabilities of PWDs, it is difficult for them to turn general disaster preparedness advice into an actionable emergency plan without additional support. One of International Medical Corps’ and AAR’s aims is to increase the resilience of PWDs by giving them both the material tools and knowledge to manage risk and take care of themselves in times of disasters. Building upon lessons learned while working with the Iwaki Jiritsu Seikatsu Center (a local non-profit organization supporting PWDs in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture) International Medical Corps and AAR Japan presented a disaster preparedness program at the Waiwai Workshop focused on helping PWDs in a future disaster situation.
The Waiwai Workshop is a non-profit facility that runs a vocational training workshop for PWDs in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture. Mr. Masae Igari, the workshop’s director, and his staff strongly believe in supporting the independence of PWDs, and trainees here assemble light switches, high-end ballpoint pens, and handcrafts such as key-chains. This work provides an opportunity for PWDs to learn valuable skills while earning a steady wage, which fosters a sense of accomplishment and builds self-confidence. Currently, 24 PWDs are employed at the workshop and generally work from 8 in the morning until 5 in the evening, although some individuals have shorter shifts depending on their stamina and capabilities. The majority of the disabled workers have intellectual disabilities and the remaining individuals have psychological and/or physical disabilities.
The Waiwai Workshop had first-hand experience with large-scale disaster when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in March 2011. The subsequent tsunami flooded the first floor of the original workshop building to a height of three feet. In order to escape the flood waters, Waiwai staff members used a rope to lead everyone out of the building and up the street, in complete darkness, to shelter at a shrine located on top of a nearby hill. During the first month of the town’s recovery period, Mr. Igari opened his home to four staff members and eight workers.
The damage to the workshop was very extensive. Flooding from the tsunami destroyed all of the equipment on the first floor, and goods from a neighboring home improvement store were swept into the workshop by the waves, including fertilizer that leaked out from ripped bags and seeped into the floor of the facility. To make matters worse, the ground beneath the building sank by 11 inches. The building had to be torn down entirely and the ground under the new foundation was raised by 20 inches. The building was then reconstructed on top of the new, raised foundation.
AAR Japan was instrumental in the reconstruction of the facility, bringing in the majority of much-needed funding, facilitating the logistics, and ensuring that the construction work was done according to building standards. The reconstructed building incorporated a number of improvements in terms of its accessibility as well as emergency preparedness. Height differences between floors were significantly reduced, a ramp was installed at the entrance, and a handrail was installed on the staircase. In case of emergency, the workers can now quickly get out of the building through one of three exits.
On March 7, 2014, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan conducted disaster preparedness training and distributed emergency evacuation kits to a total of 42 individuals (28 PWDs and 14 other staff members) of the Waiwai Workshop. International Medical Corps’ Country Representative Yumi Terahata, AAR project coordinators Atsushi Naoe and Masayuki Okada, and Katsuhiko Kyono from Iwate Social Welfare Council conducted basic training to increase the workers’ knowledge about the hazards present during a disaster and what to do when those hazards occur. This training utilized an emergency preparedness manual that Iwate Social Welfare Council had created specifically for PWDs.
During the training session, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan demonstrated how to use the items in the emergency kits. Each kit was packed into a backpack and included 30 essential items, including: drinking water, non-perishable food, a first aid kit, a hand-crank flashlight/radio/siren, a basic hygiene kit, disposable toilets, an emergency blanket, an inflatable plastic sleeping mattress, etc. Further, because each emergency kit must also be custom-tailored by each individual to meet their particular needs (such as prescription medication, emergency contact information, and the like), possibilities for additional items were also discussed.
After the training, Mr. Igari said, “We are very happy with this preparedness training and grateful for the emergency kits. Up until now, we were too overwhelmed with dealing with the aftermath of the last disaster that we couldn’t spare the time to think about dealing with future dangers. Now that it’s been almost a year since we moved into our new building, I feel we’re able to breathe a little. We were just starting to discuss amongst ourselves how we need to be prepared for future disasters, but we were honestly at a loss as to how to go about it. I feel that your help comes at the perfect time.”