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October 12, 2017

'Japan Disaster Relief Team: 30 Years On' Part 2: Medical Team Performs Operations in Disaster Areas

photoMembers of the Medical Team treat patients arriving one after another

"One couldn't walk and was carried by a family member. Another walked more than six hours to be examined. We really had a lot of different kinds of patients."

These are the words of Jiro Oba (a doctor at Saiseikai Senri Hospital's Senri Critical Care Medical Center in Osaka prefecture), who went to Nepal as a member of the Japan Disaster Relief (JDR) Medical Team. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal on April 25, 2015. The team set up a base at Barhabise, in a mountainous area three hours by car from Kathmandu, and opened a field hospital there. Amid repeated aftershocks, it performed operations on patients who had sustained broken bones and other serious injuries.

Deploying its first field hospital for the Nepal earthquake

This was the first time the team deployed a field hospital with a sterilization room, beds and hospital-ward functions such as surgery and dialysis. Though the team once took X-ray equipment into the field for a 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, in the past field medicine has been done at the clinic level and more seriously injured patients had to be transported to local hospitals. In the three weeks leading up to May 20, the team in Nepal performed 987 examinations and 22 surgeries.

photoAn operation at the field hospital opened during the 2015 Nepal earthquake

It began with assisting refugees from Cambodia in 1979

photoAssisting Cambodian refugees in 1979

The medical team has been dispatched 57 times since 1987. However, Japan's emergency medical assistance goes back to its support for refugees from Cambodia in 1979. At the time, political disorder resulted in many people fleeing to the border with neighboring Thailand. Major European countries quickly dispatched medical teams, but no structure was in place for Japan to do so, so it was slow to act. Recognizing this shortcoming, in 1982 Japan established the Japan Medical Team for Disaster Relief (JMTDR). During normal times when no emergency was occurring, by registering as volunteers doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who had completed the required training, Japan put in place a structure to respond rapidly when disasters occur overseas.

About 1,000 doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical coordinators have voluntarily registered with the JDR Medical Team. When there is a request from a disaster affected country for support from Japan and a decision is made to dispatch the Medical Team, the people registered receive email messages and faxes asking them to participate. In some cases, the advance team assembles at Narita Airport, the main international airport of japan, the same day and heads for the disaster affected area. To remain registered, a medical worker must periodically participate in Medical Team training.

World-class skill and organization

photoLocal medical personal and members of the Infectious Disease Response Team perform an antibody test in Congo DR in 2016

30 years after its founding, the JDR Team continues to take on new challenges. An Infectious Disease Response Team was newly established in 2015 in response to an Ebola epidemic, to deal with the infectious disease epidemic of international scale. The team was dispatched for the first time between July and August 2016, to DR Congo, where an outbreak of yellow fever was growing. The team assisted with laboratory diagnosis and planning the vaccinations of 11 million people.

In October 2016, World Health Organization certified the Medical Team as an emergency medical team. It was the fourth team in the world to be certified. The team received high marks for its plentiful experience, superior human resource registration system, advanced medical equipment and comprehensive training system.


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