Tsunami survivors slept on the floor in the Kesdam TNI military hospital a few days after the disaster.

Hospitals finally
come up for air

Facilities over-taxed by tsunamis
recover thanks to volunteers

» Guardsmen finish relief efforts

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia >> The tile floors at the Kesdam TNI military hospital are white and clean again and bodies no longer line the hallways, unlike the chaotic scene here for the first few days after the tsunami and earthquake.

Dr. Peony Suprianto, an Indonesian military psychiatrist, arrived about 12 hours after the tsunami hit. He was headed to the hospital to train the doctors and staff here about treating posttraumatic-stress disorder. Instead, he was pressed into emergency service.

On assignment

Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima is traveling through Southeast Asia to report on relief efforts for people across 11 countries devastated by the Dec. 26 quake and tsunamis.

For about three days, the doctors and staff that showed up were on their own, he said, treating more than 1,000 patients. They ran out of medicine. There weren't enough people to move the dead nor to move new patients from the outside into beds. Many people died from infections that could have been treated, he said.

The first relief doctors, nurses and paramedics began arriving within 72 hours. But it took at least five days, Suprianto said, for enough medical personnel and medicine to arrive so that the hospital wasn't overwhelmed and could function close to normal again.

Many of the 200 people who work or volunteer at the hospital survived the earthquake and tsunami. But almost all of them lost family members or homes and most could not come to work.

Indonesian doctors from Jakarta and other areas outside of Aceh are now working at the hospital and staffing clinics throughout the tsunami- and earthquake-damaged areas of western Sumatra.

Their efforts are being supported by donations from Hawaii.

The East-West Center tsunami relief fund is giving $30,000 to Uplift International, which was helping to fund the Indonesian doctors association Ikatan Dokter Indonesia (IDI), to improve medical care in the county.

Also, partnering with Project Hope, Uplift delivered about eight tons of medicine and medical supplies worth $2.5 million to Banda Aceh, where it will be distributed to hospitals and clinics throughout Sumatra.

Another 11 tons of donated medicine and supplies is in a warehouse in Jakarta and will be distributed through the Ministry of Health, said Mark Schlansky, the founder of Uplift International. Schlansky was in Banda Aceh last week overseeing the delivery of the medical supplies.

Another $30,000 is going to WALHI, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, which is providing food, shelter and medical care throughout the region.

A medical team from Mercy Malaysia, which received at least $5,000 in matching funds from the center, dropped by the TNI hospital last weekend and picked up some infant formula and first aid kits from Uplift.

Volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics from IDI and other Indonesian medical associations are putting their practices aside for a week to two weeks at a time and sleeping on the floor of hospital rooms to help treat patients.

While making rounds last weekend, Dr. Ika Prasefya Wigaya, who is here as a member of an internal medicine association, pointed to an elderly man named Khalidan.

"He can go home now, but he has no home to go to," Wigaya said.

There are patients like him in every hospital in the city, according to the government.

Another patient, a woman named Mariani, is complaining about stomach pains.

"There is nothing physically wrong with her," said Dr. Joni Anwar. The pains might be psychological, perhaps brought on by stress, he said.

In another part of the hospital, Dr. Tohir Abdulkadir is coordinating IDI's relief effort.

IDI has about 100 doctors, nurses and paramedics working in three mobile clinics in Banda Aceh, and four sites outside the city. IDI medical teams arrived within five days of the earthquake, Abdulkadir said.

He is working to set up a medical clinic in Aceh Jaya, a province just south of Banda Aceh on the hard-hit western coast of Sumatra.

WALHI, which has been active in Aceh for about 20 years, is also providing medical services in western Sumatra, said Terry Bigalke, the East-West Center's director of educational programs, who met with WALHI representatives in Medan, Indonesia, last week.

Both WALHI and IDI are trying to set up clinics to help people in remote areas that are less served by other agencies. The areas are also where GAM, the Aceh separatist guerrillas, have been active.

It has been difficult to set up the clinics, said Abdulkadir. "There are security concerns," he said.

IDI plans to supply volunteer doctors for Aceh for about three months. After that, it's hoped that the health ministry will have a longer-term solution to providing medical care in the disaster areas and for replacing the doctors, nurses and paramedics killed by the tsunami and earthquake.

Meanwhile, after making rounds, the volunteer doctors staff the hospital's outpatient clinic. Some of the patients are having tsunami- and quake-related injuries checked. But more and more of the cases are routine.

Anwar, explaining why he is volunteering, said, "We must do everything we can do to help the people here to have a better condition for their life.

"We are all Indonesians. It's very sad to see our people suffering," he added.

Dr. Azahri Gani, who is from Aceh but now practices in Jakarta, said 10 to 20 babies have been born at the hospital since the earthquake and tsunami.

"Maybe they'll name them Gempa (the Indonesian word for earthquake)," joked a colleague.

East-West Center Tsunami Relief page
American Red Cross Hawaii
Red Cross survivor locator
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

U.S. Pacific Command


Hawaii Guardsmen
wrap up relief efforts

Six Hickam servicemen helped
establish communications

UTAPAO, Thailand >> Six members from a Hawaii Air National Guard communications group are preparing to return home as the U.S. military winds down its relief operations here.

The members of the 201st Combat Communications Group left Hickam Air Force Base two weeks ago.

Master Sgt. Nathan Kum said they arrived in Thailand at 3 a.m. and started working at 8 a.m. setting up a microwave relay system. Their job was to provide phone, Internet and other communications to the Tanker Airlift Control Element, the people that run the flight line, and take care of and load the planes carrying relief supplies to tsunami- and earthquake-damaged areas in Southeast and South Asia.

"Com (communications) is very important," Kum said. "Without com, nothing moves."

The 201st supported the 18th Combat Communications Squadron from Kadena Air Force Base in Japan.

Kum said during their two weeks here, the Guard members worked up to 10 hours a day six to seven days a week in tents on the flight line next to a big satellite dish and microwave gear.

"That's how we normally work," Kum said. "Combat communications is 24-7."

The group has deployed before to Utapao for the Cobra Gold exercises.

Kum, who lives in Waianae, is a full-time member of the Guard. All six volunteered for this duty.

The other members of the group, all reservists, are Tech Sgt. Jon Divine from Ewa Beach; Staff Sgt. John Ayau and Senior Airman Michael Vaughn from Pacific Palisades and also from the 293 Combat Communications Squadron; and Staff Sgt. Jason Furukawa and Senior Airman Roque Agpoon from the 292nd Combat Communications Squadron on Maui.

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