Because of great intervening distances, international medical relief activities in catastrophic, sudden-onset disasters often do not begin until days 5–7 after the precipitating event. The medical needs of those affected and what public health problems exist in the community in the week after the tsunami disaster in Papua New Guinea(PNG) were investigated.
The Japan Medical Team for Disaster Relief (JMTDR) conducted investigative hearings at the District Office responsible for the management of the disaster, the Care Center, and the Hospitals in Aitape, Vanimo, and Wewak in PNG.
The numbers of in-patients in the Aitate, Vanimo, and Wewak Hospitals, and in the Care Center in Aitape were 291, >300, 68, and 104, respectively. The exact number of people affected was unknown at the Aitape District Office. There ivas no lack of medical supplies and drugs in the hospital, but the Care Center in Aitape did not have sufficient quantities of antibiotics. No outbreak of communicable disease occurred, despite the presence of risk factors such as the dense concentration of affected people and the constant prevalence of malaria and diarrhea. The water at Wewak General Hospital contained chlorine and was suitable for drinking, but that elsewhere contained bacteria.
On about the 7th day after the event, the available information still was incomplete, and it was a time to shift from initial emergency activities to specialized medical care. Although no outbreak of communicable disease actually occurred, there was much anxiety about it because of the risk factors present. For effective medical care at this stage, it is essential to conduct a survey of actual medical needs that also include epidemiological factors.