PLoS Medicine refocuses world's attention on the tsunami, six months on


The tsunami that decimated South East Asia on 26th December 2004 provoked an intense media and humanitarian response, but now—six months later—the world’s attention has moved on. A special issue of the open access global health journal PLoS Medicine revisits the health effects of the devastation.

The special issue—a collection of seven articles, many authored by experts from countries affected by the tsunami—asks provocative questions of the international health community, governments, policymakers, the press, and the broader public:

  • Why were four times as many women killed as men? Rhona MacDonald of Oxfam explains how pre-existing gender disparities made women more vulnerable to death.

  • Should doctors allow reporters inside hospitals and clinics at times of natural disasters? Anant Bhan, a public health physician from India, was disturbed by intrusive media representations of the tsunami: “We should not need to be voyeurs into the grief of vulnerable victims to launch an effective and humane response to any disaster.”

  • What problems have been created by the mass burial of unidentified victims? “Many mass burial sites were not planned and not well documented,” which made identification of the deceased an almost impossible task, argues the Sri Lankan forensic pathologist Clifford Perera.

  • Was the humanitarian response guided by the best research evidence? Prathap Tharyan and colleagues from the Cochrane Collaboration say that some disaster response teams treated people with a psychological therapy called “debriefing,” which has been found to be ineffective or even harmful.

  • What are the long term psychological effects and how should the health community address them? Kaz de Jong and colleagues from Médecins Sans Frontières discuss how their organization is responding to the Indonesian government’s request for help in dealing with the psychosocial effects of the disaster.

  • Do dead bodies pose an infection risk? Oliver Morgan and colleagues from the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine say that although the media and health professionals often claim that dead bodies can cause epidemics, in fact “victims of natural disasters die from trauma, burns, or drowning and are unlikely to harbor pathogenic organisms such as cholera.”

  • What are the special health needs of migrant workers affected by the tsunami? David Wilson, Medical Coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières in Bangkok, Thailand, discusses how the tsunami affected Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, exacerbating pre-existing difficulties that they experienced in accessing health care.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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