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Private Individuals Join International Aid Effort in Indian Ocean

As international aid groups lead the relief effort for those hit by the December 26 earthquake and tsunami, freelance volunteers are doing what they can to relieve suffering in small, but important ways.

On Monday, Dr. Susan Jamieson got an e-mail while she was on vacation in Madrid, seeking her help in obtaining vaccines for Sri Lankan communities hit by the tsunami.

By Wednesday, the Hong Kong resident was in Sri Lanka, working with two friends, Kate Evans and Billy Gladwyn, to vaccinate people against two water-borne diseases: hepatitis and typhoid. They are working in small towns about 10-kilometers from the southern city of Galle.

Dr. Jamieson says many people are not living in refugee camps, because they want to be near the remains of their destroyed homes. And that, she says, puts them at risk of disease.

"Their homes may be mainly destroyed but they have still got personal belongings there, and they are not going to leave them, especially when they are getting looted," she said. "All the water wells are contaminated, so they are at risk of infection."

Dr. Jamieson's effort was coordinated by a British couple living in Sri Lanka. She was able to acquire about three thousand vaccine doses in Hong Kong, and then talked an airline, Cathay Pacific, into flying her little team of volunteers to Sri Lanka. She and her fellow volunteers are asking their friends for donations to cover some of their other expenses.

The three are working with a lawyer and other Sri Lankan residents to help them get through the bureaucracy to reach people needing shots.

Dr. Jamieson says these sorts of small, locally coordinated efforts appear to be helping areas that large international aid groups have yet to reach. "They are coordinating things on a very local basis," she added. "This is the local sort of people who forming themselves into little groups who are actually there. I am giving them any sort of medication that they can use, with instructions."

Among other things, Dr. Jamieson says, affected residents need antibiotics for wounds. But she says rapid vaccination efforts are especially important in small areas, because their water sources may be the last to be restored, and it can take two weeks for vaccines, once administered, to take effect.