Posts Tagged ‘International Rescue Committee’

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‘The Worst I’ve Ever Seen': One Persistent Nurse’s Take on Somalian Refugee Situation

September 20, 2011

By Shawn Kennedy, editor-in-chief

Long-term care: Martone at a refugee camp in Uganda back in 2001

Gerry Martone is a nurse who has traveled to the far reaches of the world in his job as director of humanitarian resources at the International Rescue Committee (IRC). We ran a profile of Gerry in 2001 and also a photo essay. He’s also a skilled photographer and we’ve published his photo essays documenting his travels. (See here for one on assessing poverty in Afghanistan and here for one on Sudan refugees; click through to PDF versions for best viewing.)

So when I spoke with Gerry last week, shortly after he came back from a visit to a refugee camp in Kenya, it scared me when he said the situation in East Africa is the worst thing he’s ever seen. The region is plagued by a severe drought (Martone says it’s had no appreciable rain in two years), and while drought is a cyclical phenomenon there,  a struggling central government, lack of health and response systems, and ongoing  conflicts among local clans have worsened the situation, causing widespread food shortages. The global community is responding with aid, but for many, it will be too late.

He visited a UN camp outside the city of Dadaab, Kenya, to which more than 440,000 displaced people—mostly Somalians, who are the hardest hit—have fled. The IRC runs a hospital at the camp. The situation is dire: the UN estimates that, without intervention, 750,000 Somalians face death within four months. And it doesn’t have to be this way—it’s a matter of making potable water and food available—though even with supplies on hand, it’s hard to get them delivered to those in need. Martone said the area is completely lawless and very dangerous—he traveled with six armed guards—and many organizations fear sending their workers.

Martone said if people want to help, they should donate to an aid agency they feel comfortable with—and there are many doing work in the region, including the IRC, Doctors Without Borders, and the UN Refugee Agency, to name a few.

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Praise for Haiti Nurse Volunteers–And a Word of Caution

January 21, 2010

Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, interim editor-in-chief

International Rescue Committee Web site

As has happened many times before, nurses have stepped up to the plate in volunteering their services in the wake of the devastating Haitian earthquake. The California Nurses Association reported several days ago on its Web site that nearly 7,500 nurses had responded to a call by National Nurses United for volunteers. Nurses are also integral in the ranks of Médecins Sans Frontières , the International Rescue Committee, federal disaster response teams, and of course the American Red Cross.

What nurses should not do is take it upon themselves to fly to Haiti without being connected to an organized disaster group. Independent volunteers can create more problems and end up becoming consumers of disaster services instead of providers. As we noted in an AJN news article shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, “Because of the potential for injuries on site and subsequent health problems and stress syndromes, it’s essential that personnel location and hours spent at the scene be carefully monitored. Proper disaster management safeguards the lives of both victims and rescuers.”

Many first responders to the September 11 attacks subsequently developed respiratory problems; many suffered from depression. Many of these people had access to health care and counseling because they were monitored and registered and periodically assessed for postevent sequelae. But there were many “ad hoc” volunteers, who just showed up, without equipment, disaster training, or support. One wonders how many of these laudable volunteers suffered from subsequent PTSD.

Resource Compilation for Nurses Who Want to Help

So, if you feel driven to go to Haiti to help (as opposed to making a monetary donation), go with a bona fide group. (Nurses at the University of Maryland School of Nursing have a site listing organizations involved in the relief effort.) Make sure you have the skills and emotional makeup necessary to be of help. Here’s something from that 2001 news article that’s worth repeating: “Eileen Hanley, MBA, RN, is director of Supportive Care at Saint Vincent’s Medical Center in Manhattan, one of the hospitals that received many of the injured, including many rescue workers. She warns that when disaster ends, bereavement begins, and those planning disaster assistance must be sure to include mental health services for rescue workers and hospital workers as well as for victims.”

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