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Aceh's mental health burden

2nd January 2007

02012007_tsunami400.jpgThe Paris-based group Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says the humanitarian situation has improved 'in leaps and bounds' in the impoverished Indonesian region of Aceh.

But the community was among the worst hit by the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami, and while humanitarian groups are pulling out, chronic mental health problems remain.

"People can move freely again - for example, to go to the nearest health post - and the medical infrastructure is being restored," MSF operational manager Ewald Stals said in a statement on the group's Web site.

"MSF teams have provided psychosocial support in various villages that were caught up in the civil war. The psychologists and counsellors helped people pick up their lives again and get back on track after years of abuse and intimidation," Stals said.

But he said chronic mental health needs remained, and MSF was using a photo exhibition as a means of lobbying the government to take over key mental health service provision in the stricken areas, where thousands of people were killed by the massive sea surges caused by an undersea earthquake.

"We want to acknowledge publicly that people have made progress both on their own and with MSF’s support and that mental trauma can be and needs to be addressed," he added.

MSF operations in Aceh will close in January 2007, the group's longest-running post-tsunami relief effort.

Stals said: "The logistical challenges were awesome. The infrastructure in the coastal areas had been completely destroyed. We used helicopters and boats, amongst other things, to reach the injured, distribute water containers, hygiene products and other relief goods, and restore the supply of clean water."

"The aim was to set up psychosocial programmes for people suffering from serious stress. The symptoms can be triggered by all sorts of factors. Besides the tsunami, decades of civil war had traumatised many people."

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