Exigencies of medical care

Two months since the March 11 earthquake-tsunami hit Tohoku, the nearly 120,000 evacuees still living in temporary shelters are more likely to suffer a deterioration in health. Therefore, help from the medical professionals on the scene has become more important than ever, as the tsunami swept away numerous medical facilities, and killed many local doctors and nurses.

After the 1995 Kobe quake, some 500 survivors died within 48 hours because of inadequate medical treatment. In total, more than 900 people died for similar reasons. The lesson from the Kobe quake gave rise to the establishment of disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs). After the March 11 disasters, some 340 DMATs from around Japan arrived in the impacted areas.

Meanwhile, the Japan Medical Association, a nationwide organization of doctors, for the first time, organized the Japan Medical Assistance Teams (JMATs). It has sent some 700 JMATs from across the country to the devastated region.

In addition to these teams, groups from university and Red Cross hospitals and nonprofit medical organizations went to the disaster area. Eighteen helicopters carrying doctors transported patients from isolated hospitals in the tsunami-hit region to places where better medical and other treatment were available.

Usually medical professionals who go to the devastated areas do a week’s stint before being relieved by other medical professionals. Ways should be considered to enable long-term support for the disaster areas. There were not many hospital doctors in the coastal region of northeastern Japan to begin with.

Doctors and other medical professionals working in these areas are exhausted. Evacuees need to be protected against illnesses such as hypertension, “economy-class syndrome” (from lack of activity), pneumonia and other infectious diseases. Some of them need psychiatric care.

The JMA, the national associations of nurses, pharmacists and dentists, medical school deans, university hospital heads, and the central and local governments must cooperate to ensure long-term medical support to disaster victims.