Millwood, VA  – Project HOPE medical volunteers are reporting that services in areas devastated by Japan’s earthquake and tsunami remain basic, with patients’ medical needs still a major concern, underlying the need for outside help until the local health systems can be reestablished.

A new rotation of Project HOPE volunteers arrived in the tsunami-struck Miyagi Prefecture in Japan to assist local health care professionals with chronic health needs as recovery efforts continue.

The Japanese-born volunteers and residents of the U.S. say they are fulfilling both a desire and duty to assist local medical professionals who are seeing thousands of patients in shelters and in homes in remote areas with little access to health services.

“I really wanted to help my country. I was born and raised in Japan and my family and friends are still there,” said Sonomi Kawasaki, a registered nurse from Orange, California.

“The situation is now in the post-acute phase, but there is a great need for medical professionals to care for people in the disaster area, which is still in terrible condition.”

Project HOPE, a U.S.-based global health education and humanitarian assistance organization has deployed twelve volunteers this month in support of the Japan Primary Care Association’s Disaster Relief Project in Miyagi Prefecture (Ishinomaki and Kesennuma cities).

Kengo Inagaki, a Japanese-born pediatric resident from Brooklyn, New York, provided medical assistance as a Project HOPE volunteer in a shelter in Kesennuma City, housing 400 people earlier this month.  He said there is still much debris in the area and some patients are suffering from anxiety as the recovery process continues.  Inagaki emphasized the need for long-term medical personnel in the area.

“The areas affected by the tsunami had a scarcity of medical personnel before the disaster.  Ideally the local physicians should provide long term care, but many primary care physicians in the affected area are still struggling to provide medical care.  Support from the outside is crucial until the local medical system is rebuilt,” said Inagaki.

Project HOPE has a vast array of expertise in dealing with the medical needs of communities following a natural disaster.  HOPE was involved in long term relief efforts following the earthquakes in Haiti (2010), China’s Sichuan Province (2008) and Indonesia following the Indian Ocean Tsunami in Southeast Asia (2004).  Project HOPE still has a presence in Haiti and Indonesia and health education programs in China.

“We have a keen understanding of the challenges that lie ahead for Japan.  Project HOPE staff and volunteers are committed to assisting the leadership of Japan establish its new medical system strategy, as townships, cities and regions are restructured and services areas are reclassified into an integrated health system of clinics, hospitals and tertiary referral centers,” said John P. Howe III, M.D., President and CEO of Project HOPE.

Project HOPE recruits volunteers globally.  Japanese speaking health professionals who meet recruiting standards, credentials, and specialty needs will be considered for deployment, regardless of where they live.  Prospective volunteers are invited to visit www.projecthope.org, click on Volunteer Tab, and look for “Operation Rising Sun” for details.

Founded in 1958, Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is dedicated to providing lasting solutions to health crises, with the mission of helping people to help themselves. Identifiable to many by the SS HOPE, the world’s first peacetime hospital ship, Project HOPE now conducts land-based medical training and health education programs in 35 countries across five continents.  www.projecthope.org

Submitted by Geraldine Carroll

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