Hygiene kits distributed to people in evacuation centres Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) plans to support a team of six psychologists who will treat survivors of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit northeast Japan on March 11.

A 12-person MSF team has been treating patients with chronic diseases in one of the areas worst affected by the disasters for the last 12 days, and earlier this week sent a psychologist to evaluate mental health needs.

Japan © Jun Saito/MSF
An MSF doctor consults with a patient in an evacuation centre in Minami Sanriku. “Many people now are in a phase of acute stress disorder, which is a totally natural response to this level of trauma,” says Ritsuko Nishimae, a clinical psychologist working with the MSF team in Minami Sanriku.

“If they are not able to get proper support psychologically, there is an increased possibility that they could develop post-traumatic stress disorder,” says the psychologist.

Nishimae has been working in the areas affected for the last two days, getting an accurate picture of needs, as well as working with disaster survivors.

“I talk with them and listen to their experiences, and what they need now. Gradually, they open their feelings and express their thoughts and show emotion. This process is very effective to release stress,” says Nishimae.

The psychologists with whom MSF plans to work come from the Japanese Society of Certified Clinical Psychologists and MSF will assist them in identifying people in need of assistance, as well as providing logistical support.

MSF medical teams continue to work in evacuation centres in Minami Sanriku, in northern Miyagi prefecture, and have also started supporting a Japanese doctor who was working in the town of Taro, in Iwate prefecture.

Their main activity continues to be consultations with elderly patients suffering from chronic diseases such as hypertension or diabetes.

Japan © Jun Saito/MSF
The centre of Minami Sanriku following the earthquake and tsunamis. On Wednesday, MSF distributed 10,000 hygiene kits comprising soap, tooth brushes, toothpaste and towels to evacuees in Minami Sanriku. On Friday and Saturday, kits containing batteries, candles, matches and towels will be distributed to 4,000 people. Daily improvements in the provision of food, water and electricity are seen by the team.

The emergency phase of the national response to the disaster appears to be winding down, as Japanese disaster medical assistance teams withdraw, and local authorities gradually take over responsibility for medical care.

MSF will continue its current medical activities in coordination with local authorities, and monitor the situation specifically in remote areas where teams can provide additional support if needed.

The national response by both government and non-government actors remains huge and they continue to expand their reach, but the MSF team will remain on the ground to fill in gaps in treatment of patients or other needs should they arise.