Following the 2006 tsunami disaster, medical relief was one of the most pressing needs of countless communities in India. Although local healthcare professionals worked tirelessly to address the needs of these devastated communities, the breadth of wide-ranging medical needs was simply beyond their ability to cope with.
In response, Topaz/ Brit Olam/ MDA Israeli volunteer delegations joined the existing teams of local doctors and staff members from Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Center (MMHRC) to work together in mobile clinics operated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJJDC).
The Topaz/ Brit Olam/ MDA Israeli medical professional delegations were comprised of doctors and paramedic staff specializing in infectious diseases, emergency, trauma, and geriatric rehabilitation. Together they affected the lives of thousands of survivors within the framework of the program.
The twelve Israeli delegation members treated 14,548 patients. These included more than 2,500 children who lost their families and homes from 79 communities in different tsunami survivor camps within a timeline of less than three months. Three mobile clinic units were launched from three main bases: Chennai, Cuddalore, Karaikal and Nagapattinam. Topaz/Brit Olam/MDA Israeli aid workers focused on the region surrounding the city of Chennai, which, according to local information, included the most densely populated camps in Southeast India. There, the professional volunteers encountered the damage and distress the local communities suffered in the post-tsunami scenario. Dr. Planer, a physician from Hadassah Hospital, reported that in Kargil Nagar, a camp in the vicinity of Chennai, there were more than 5,000 families living in one tented camp in distressing conditions.
Most of the people in the camps did not receive appropriate medical care prior to the mobile clinic’s arrival and were in dire need of medical attention. When the Topaz/ Brit Olam/ MDA Israeli medical team arrived, they took great care in tending to the medical needs of as many individuals as possible. Due to their extensive high-quality work, the Israeli medical team soon developed a positive reputation in the area as it worked to improve the local health situation.
Topaz/ Brit Olam/ MDA team members joined the local unit teams, including a local doctor and 2-3 nurses who assisted, checking and distributing the medicine; 1 lab technician, 1-2 translators, a camp manager, a driver, and 1-3 local volunteers. Every day, the mobile clinic units were dispatched to a different camp along the Tamilnadu coastline. At the beginning of every visit, the clinics were pre-arranged with the aid of local volunteers and leaders.
Topaz, Brit Olam, and MDA believe that the most effective approach to community wellness is through holistic and preventative health measures, along with basic health care. Accordingly, the volunteers in Tamilnadu divided their medical work into three major parts: 1. Treating patients with diagnosed diseases; 2. Raising awareness in the camps to the current living conditions, sanitation, and personal hygiene; 3. Referring complicated cases for hospital treatment. In addition to the activities of Topaz/ Brit Olam/ MDA providing medical treatment, the delegation also worked with the local community, guiding them on personal hygiene and sanitation, in order to avoid the outbreak of diseases.
The highly skilled field teams demonstrated great creativity and initiative in dealing with the various unexpected situations and new findings that they encountered in these difficult field conditions. While treating communities in remote survivor camps far from medical facilities, the volunteers took full responsibility and worked independently, using their ingenuity to address wide-ranging community needs with a paucity of resources.