One month after the Sichuan earthquake MSF continues giving psychological support to victims of Sichuan's earthquake

One month after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake devastated China's Sichuan province on May 12, MSF teams are continuing to give psychological support to the quake-affected population. Two teams of psychologists experienced in post-disaster trauma management have been providing advice and training to medical staff and have started a mental health programme in sites for displaced people.

The local, regional, and national response to the disaster has been enormous, but some needs remain, especially in the area of mental health.

"This emergency has been different from others in the speed and efficiency of the government and local response. Compared to other emergencies of this scale elsewhere in the world, MSF has had a more limited role in supporting the broader relief effort," said Cindy Huang, MSF emergency coordinator in Sichuan.

She added that, "MSF focuses on emergency medical humanitarian assistance and therefore does not plan to take part in the reconstruction efforts. Despite the speed and efficiency of the emergency response, it is important to remember that reconstruction, in physical and human terms, is a long process. I have no doubt that China has the capacity to rebuild infrastructure with speed and quality. But the process of rebuilding lives is more difficult. Many injured were saved by immediate and heroic efforts, but it will take a lot of time and resources for them to return to their daily lives. For example, those who were paralyzed in the earthquake need long-term physiotherapy and other kinds of practical and emotional support. I encourage people to think of reconstruction in terms of a full commitment to restoring the lives of individuals and communities."

Mental health in displacement sites

While most of the basic needs such as food and shelter have been addressed, some survivors will need mental health support in order to regain a sense of balance in their lives.

A team of three psychologists is currently working in Hanwang, Mianzhu city, where people displaced by the quake are living in temporary settlements. Another mental health programme in Long Men Shan, Pengzhou city was concluded earlier this week.

In close collaboration with the Chinese Red Cross, MSF has donated 4,570 tents, 800 rolls of plastic sheeting and other basic items (10,000 underpants and 2,000 wash basins). MSF has also donated medicines and medical supplies to several health facilities in the area.

Up to 40 international staff and 16 national staff from MSF have worked in the affected region, looking into medical and basic needs of the affected population, providing surgical and basic medical care, sharing nephrology expertise*, giving mental health support, and donating medicines, medical and non-medical supplies to the relief effort.

MSF will continue to follow up with the needs of the population. Currently, MSF has 8 international and 9 national staff working in Sichuan.

MSF has worked in China since 1988. At the time of the earthquake, MSF staff members were working in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region where the organisation has been running an HIV/AIDS treatment program since 2003 in collaboration with the Guangxi Public Health Bureau and the Nanning CDC. Early 2008, MSF handed over another HIV/AIDS program in Xiangfan, Hubei Province, to the Chinese authorities.

MSF mental health activities according to the stage of the post-disaster situation:

1) Assessing the mental health needs in hospitals and internally displaced people camps;
2) Providing psychological support to the quake victims in two referral hospitals;
3) Training medical staff on psychological first aid, patient management and provider self-care;
4) Conducting community outreach in the form of psychoeducation on common reactions to be expected after experiencing an earthquake and self-help strategies for coping; and
5) Providing consultation to the West China (Huaxi) Hospital Mental Health Center.

*Nephrologists are specialists in "crush syndrome". Crush syndrome is a condition in which muscle tissue damaged by severe internal injury may release massive quantities of toxins into the bloodstream and lead to kidney failure. Left untreated, the condition can be fatal.