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News Reports Discuss Japan’s Disaster Preparedness, Health Situations On The Ground

According to a report published in the Lancet (.pdf) on Tuesday, Japan’s medical and aid response to the earthquake and tsunami is being challenged by “the sheer scale of the devastation, widespread damage to supply routes and concerns about radiation leaks from a stricken nuclear power plant” (McCurry, 3/22). 

“The journal said that the largely rural earthquake-stricken region is suffering from a shortage of doctors and nurses and highlighted desperate conditions in still-operating hospitals and medical clinics, where usable food, water and medical supplies are scarce,” CBS News’ “World Watch” blog writes (3/22). According to the Lancet, “Even when homes are rebuilt, communities reformed, and the health infrastructure restored to its pre-quake levels, Japan’s health system is ill prepared to address long-term mental health problems triggered by the disaster. Experts say that thousands of victims will be in need of long-term trauma counselling to cope with the loss of their relatives, friends, and homes” (3/22).

BMJ News also reports on the health situation in Japan. “The number of documented casualties continues to rise. … The final death toll is expected to be above 20,000,” according to BMJ News. The article highlights the government response and efforts to deal with Japan’s elderly population. “The government has established a special task force for livelihood support of the affected populations, which is responsible for ensuring that aid reaches the evacuation centres. It will coordinate with the newly established Disaster Volunteer Coordination Office. A separate task force has been set up to respond to the nuclear reactor crisis. … Elderly and sick people in the evacuation centres ‘are becoming increasingly vulnerable as a result of the freezing weather, shortage of medicines, and limited water, sanitation and hygiene facilities,’ the [U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] warns.”

Sadia Kaenzig, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of the Red Cross, said more than 30 percent of the population in areas affected by the natural disasters are elderly. Kaenzig “said that the situation ‘would have been far worse had Japan not had such excellent crisis preparedness'” (Moszynski, 3/22).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.