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Indonesia: Caring for the victims of the triple disaster in Central Sulawesi

27 Nov 2018

Achmad Yusuf Toba (also known as Yutub), is an Indonesian medical doctor and first-time field worker with Médecins Sans Frontières. He shares his story, responding to the recent natural disasters in Sulawesi. 

Dr Yusuf Toba helping a patient during the earthquake/Tsunami in Indonesia, Central Sulawesi © MSF

“I really didn’t know what to expect when I started. But, I was determined to respond to the health needs of my people in the aftermath of the disaster in Central Sulawesi. I heard and read that many people have lost not just their homes but most heartbreaking of all, their loved ones too. 

When I learned that MSF was looking for medical doctors to respond to the tragedy, I immediately volunteered myself.  I am originally from Makassar City, South Sulawesi Province, a two-hour flight to Palu, Central Sulawesi. My experience working in the emergency department of a government hospital in Jeneponto District prepared me in handling emergency medical cases. 

The gravity of what happened in Palu with the triple disaster of an earthquake, tsunami and liquefaction happening at the same time is devastating.

The gravity of what happened in Palu with the triple disaster of an earthquake, tsunami and liquefaction happening at the same time is devastating. It crippled the health system -- many hospitals were destroyed and were not able to function. Communities were deeply affected, including the Donggala district that was cut off from the rest and did not have access to basic health care. 

When I arrived, I learned that MSF has been providing medical care for the victims of the disasters in Palu and Donggala. They have been doing it since day 2 of MSF’s arrival in the area.

My primary duty is to treat patients using MSF’s mobile clinic. I mostly handled trauma patients, such as the case of a woman who got burned by boiling water as she was running out of her house during the earthquake. I also saw many patients who suffered from fractures (broken bones), and wounds of different severity -- from bruises, lacerations and injuries.

Earthquake in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia damages a church. © Achmad Yusuf Toba / MSF

Part of what I do is to also assess the evacuation camps or health posts that the team set up and to do disease surveillance and individual follow-ups of patients to ensure that communicable diseases like diarrhoea, skin problems and respiratory tract infections would be prevented.

 

The MSF team provided a temporary health centre in Baluase Village, South Dolo Sub-district, to replace its health centre which was heavily damaged by the earthquake. This is to ensure continuous service provision to the affected people in the area.

The MSF team provided a temporary health centre in Baluase Village, South Dolo Sub-district, to replace its health centre which was heavily damaged by the earthquake.

The team also encountered some challenges after the installation of the temporary health centre because the people were still fearful of entering the building and staying for consultations in order to get proper diagnoses and treatments. However, the team kept on encouraging and motivating them to go inside and receive the medical care that they needed.

Another challenge is the local language. I had a difficult time communicating with the locals. We could barely find someone who could speak the native Indonesian language. Fortunately, our driver was a local and could understand and translate our conversations with the patients which helped bridge the gaps and build a relationship not just with our patients but also the community.

Dr Yusuf Toba helping a patient during the earthquake/Tsunami in Indonesia, Central Sulawesi © MSF

My time with MSF in Central Sulawesi opened my eyes on how the team works. Every member of the team was not just hard-working but they were also able to have fun in what they do.  No one complained of the difficult situation that we were in but did what they could to serve the people. We took care of each other, like a family. Hence I really enjoyed my time in Central Sulawesi and will definitely grab the chance again to be an MSF field worker in the future. With MSF, I know that I can reach out to people who need my help.”