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Survivors in Desperate Need of Medical Support


Some Asian hospitals are overflowing with survivors of the tsunami disaster as a global relief operation tries to meet emergency medical needs. Leta Hong Fincher has more on the challenges facing donors throughout the region.

In Indonesia, almost half a million people have been displaced by the tsunami and many are wounded.

The disaster destroyed about half of this fishing town of 40,000 in Meulaboh, Indonesia--one of the hardest hit areas. More than a week later, aid has begun to reach the residents. But doctors say they are struggling to meet the needs of the wounded.

Colonel Colin Cheo is a physician in the Singapore Army, which has sent medical and relief supplies to Indonesia. He says that, "A lot of the cases we will see are wounds that may be infected and orthopedic and fractures and most of those will be infected. This will need antibiotic treatment and at the same time some form of surgery."

The U.S. military is preparing to send more medical help to tsunami survivors in its largest humanitarian relief operation in decades. Some 13,000 U.S. military personnel are already involved. Helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier have sent aid to Indonesia's island of Sumatra and evacuated refugees.

But in parts of Indonesia's city of Banda Aceh, wounded survivors are finding overcrowded hospitals with no power and few medical supplies or doctors. In some cases, untrained volunteers are providing medical treatment.

Ira Lippke is a tourist from California who was surfing in nearby Bali when the tsunami struck. He and his friends bought $500 of medicine and flew to Aceh to volunteer at this hospital. Mr. Lippke says his only medical experience was first aid in the Boy Scouts. But he found hundreds of patients desperate for his help.

"When we first got here we were working around the clock – ‘till two at night, from six in the morning ‘till two at night -- just cleaning people, and there were one or two other doctors," he said.

In the Sri Lankan city of Galle, so many hospitals have been wiped out by the tsunami that these Italian doctors have set up a temporary treatment center. Doctors here say most of the wounded are suffering from trauma and infections.

In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, authorities are trying to prevent an epidemic as bodies are still being recovered from the disaster.

Even residents of Afghanistan are volunteering for the relief effort by donating blood. One donor said, "The tsunami disaster killed more than 150,000 people and injured many more, and all of them need blood."

World leaders will work further on a global relief plan at a donor conference on Thursday in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.

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