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January 25, 2005

Tsunami Stories

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On Dec. 26, Dr. Navaratnasamy ("Paranie") Paranietharan, an MPH student at the School since June 2004, was swept up by the tsunami while driving with his brother along the harbor road outside his native city of Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. He and his brother both managed to escape the waves. Navaratnasamy Paranietharanan, MBBS, tells his story.

One faculty member from the School, Earl Wall, has been back at the School since Jan. 14, after spending Dec. 28 to Jan. 12 assessing health care needs in Aceh Province, Indonesia. A graduate student in International Health, Abigail Thomas, is still working in Sri Lanka at a health clinic in Kilinochchi. Their stories are below:

Earl Wall

Earl Wall, MS, a research associate with the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response, in International Health, responsible for program development, visited a number of medical facilities in Aceh. "As sometimes happens in disasters of this magnitude," he reports, "they had already received doctors and medical supplies in excess. There were massive quantities of medical supplies–-the hallways were packed with boxes and boxes of them. What they didn’t have enough of were nurses and public health experts." Read a Q&A with Wall about what he learned in Indonesia

After the tsunamis struck, Abigail Thomas read a story about a physician determined to get relief to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Before New Year's Day, Thomas had signed up with the International Medical Health Organization to come to the town of Kilinochchi. Over the Jan. 22 weekend, she spoke with two newspaper reporters about what she was doing.
    As she was escorting a 14-year-old girl to a refugee camp's makeshift clinic for counseling, Thomas told a Washington Times reporter that the young girl had begun menstruating for the first time and had no female relatives left to guide her. According to local custom, a young girl's first menstruation is cause for a month-long celebration, with cleansing rituals and special foods prepared by the girl's mother. "None of that is happening," Thomas told the reporter. "These are the kind of things you never think of." Read the Washington Times article
     She also spoke with a Baltimore Sun reporter about how important it is for humanitarian workers to tell those tsunami victims who have little contact with the outside world that the whole world knows about the tsunami, and that everyone feels terrible about the disaster. "It seemed amazingly empowering [for them] to have aid workers clearly from very far away," Thomas said. "They know they haven't been forgotten." Read the Sun article.  

Bob Brox, MPH '96, along with relief worker colleagues and a team of seven Indonesian laborers spent three days in Calang, Indonesia, turning a hillside spring and rivulet into a protected source of drinking water for some of this town's 2,500 tsunami survivors. Read the Washington Post article.

Many other faculty, students and alumni of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are currently involved in helping the survivors of the Dec. 26 tsunamis. Following are details about their activities.

Bloomberg School Faculty

Rashid Chotani

Dr. Chotani

Rashid Chotani, MD, MPH, assistant professor, International Health, set out for Indonesia Jan. 10 to act as the medical director for the Canadian Muslim Relief Committee and to select a site where services were most needed. Back in Baltimore Jan. 18 for a brief visit with his family, Chotani left again for Sri Lanka on Jan. 22 with Asia Relief, a non-profit organization operating out of Gaithersburg, Md. Read Chotani's Jan. 20 report
     Read an Irish Examiner interview with Chotani.

Dr. Burnham

Gilbert Burnham, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response and associate professor, International Health, is back at the School after working in Afghanistan. He has been in close touch with the many relief organizations with which he regularly works. In a Dec. 30 telephone interview with Reuters, Burnham said that getting clean water to the millions of survivors was the first order of business, but that the task would not be an easy one. "Where are you going to find a million plastic buckets in Sri Lanka right now?" Burnham asked. In the weeks ahead, Burnham will be coordinating technical and epidemiologic assistance as requested and offering consultation and technical guidance.

Les Roberts, a Bloomberg School water engineer and an associate with the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response, speaks with National Public Radio on getting clean water to tsunami survivors.

Courtland Robinson

Dr. Robinson

Courtland Robinson, PhD, assistant professor, International Health, and William Weiss, DrPH '03, research associate, International Health, left for Aceh Jan. 10. They took over from Earl Wall. Mercy Corps, with whom Robinson has worked extensively, has requested collaboration with the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response on their program in Indonesia.

Alexander Vu, MD, instructor, Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a Center for Refugee and Disaster Reponse/International Emergency Medicine Fellow, arrived in Jakarta January 6, along with three nurses from the Emergency Department at Hopkins Bayview Medical Center-- Brian Wahl, Emily Seay and Audrey Rutkowski.
       Arjun Chanmugam, MD, program director for Emergency Medicine and associate professor, Emergency Medicine, reports that Vu and his team are working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to offer direct medical relief and possibly to set up a surveillance system to monitor infectious disease and injuries resulting from the disaster. Says Chanmugam, "Right now, [Johns Hopkins] Hospital is donating supplies and we are cautiously awaiting field reports and assessments in order to determine what other interventions we can participate in."
     Joanne Renjel, RN, an advanced clinical nurse at the Bayview Medical Center's Emergency Department, reports that the three Bayview RNs will be gone for four weeks and will be working in teams that include one physician, one RN and one water specialist. "Knowing that, they didn't anticipate seeing much of one another once they reached their destination" says Renjel. "One of the RNs took her laptop and promised to be in touch when she was able, but we haven't heard from them as of yet." 

David Celentano

Dr. Celentano

David Celentano, ScD, MHS, professor, Epidemiology, and director, Infectious Disease Epidemiology, heads a group from the School that has been working since 1998 in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, to promote HIV/AIDS prevention. For the past two years, these researchers have been working in 12 communities--three of which are located on the beach north of the central city.

"Starting almost immediately after the tsunami," says Celentano, "part of the team began conducting a situational assessment of the needs of these three communities. As of January 4, they'd determined that 455 families were without shelter, their huts and meager dwellings having been destroyed. Our team has been providing medical care, clothing and essential household supplies such as cooking utensils, as well as clean water and food to those in most need. In addition, we are working to provide shelter and maintaining contact with the community members. To date, two individuals have gone missing and are unaccounted for. We are also engaged in fundraising, as we estimate that approximately 40,000 rupees are needed to rebuild and re-equip each family that has experienced total loss."

Bloomberg School Alumni

Joseph Sliman, MPH '03, a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, has been sent to Thailand as part of the United States' deployment of military personnel to aid in the relief effort. As of Jan. 21, his mission was awaiting clearance from the Thai government to enter the country. Sliman is attached to the Navy Environmental and Preventative Medicine Unit 6 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Read the Jan. 21 article in the (Washington County, Pa.) Observer-Reporter.

Katie Haxall, MPH '04, public relations officer for Helen Keller International (HKI) at its New York headquarters, reports that she has been involved with that organization's tsunami disaster relief efforts in Indonesia. Working with other NGOs there under the aegis of the United Nations, HKI is focusing its efforts on two basic emergency assistance activities: providing nutritional supplements to children, and assessing living conditions and directing clean water, shelter, food, sanitation and medical care to those in need in Aceh and other affected areas. Haxall says that HKI has established partnerships with the World Food Programme, UNICEF, Church World Service (CWS) and the Indonesian Doctors Association. More on HKI's tsunami relief efforts.

Sunil Solomon, MD, MPH ’04, along with Suniti Solomon, MD, director of YR Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Care (YRG CARE) are conducting a health assessment and responding to health care needs, including the psychological impact of the disaster in Chennai, India.

Richard Brennan, MD, MPH ’96, director of the International Rescue Committee’s health program, is leading the IRC's efforts in Indonesia by helping coordinate relief organizations in their effort to provide water and sanitation, medical care and shelter and food for thousands of people. Read the Washington Post article.  IRC's account of its (and Brennan's) efforts in Aceh, Indonesia.

Jose Ravano, MHS ’98, left on January 6, for Sri Lanka to lead the recovery effort for CARE International. After getting water and sanitation facilities running, he will organize the international relief effort, eliminating duplication with other agencies and making sure there is a plan for the years-long task of rebuilding. Read the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article.    

Bloomberg School Centers, Institutes and Organizations

The School's InterAction Community Outreach Program reports that, as of January 6, over 100 boxes of donated supplies from all over Johns Hopkins University were delivered to Asia Relief, a non-profit organization operating out of Gaithersburg, Md. "Tons of food, water, medical supplies, blankets, sheets and clothing were collected," reports Mindi B. Levin, MS, CHES, InterAction's community outreach manager. "A special thank you to Broadway Transport Services and the JHSPH Housekeeping staff for volunteering their time and services to load the vans and deliver the items."

The Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) already had a team on the ground in Jakarta before the tsunami, as part of the Coalition for Healthy Indonesia 2010. This Coalition is now determining how best to apply to the crisis its communication programs on hand washing, hygiene improvement, and sanitation. Other CCP activities:

Whereas CCP has been working on water programs for years in Indonesia, JHPEIGO has similarly been setting up reproductive health projects there. Thus, JHPEIGO has also been asked by USAID to address the water situation in and around Aceh. Since neither CCP nor JHPEIGO has extensive emergency experience, both groups have asked the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response to help with the transition from emergency relief to the redevelopment that will soon become necessary.

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The tsunami relief effort at Johns Hopkins (JHU Gazette, Jan. 10) 

JHPIEGO Teams with CARE to Reestablish Indonesian Health Care Facilities