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At a glance: Indonesia

Young quake survivors battle tetanus infection

© UNICEF video
Four-year old Dani contracted tetanus after stepping on a nail while fleeing the earthquake in her village of Obor, outside Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

By Daniel Ziv

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia, 19 June 2006 – Four-year-old Dani lies weak but restless in her hospital bed. She’s been here for four days with her mother, Ibu Gini.

Dani and her family have reason to be weary. Their village, Obor, in the Sleman District outside Yogyakarta was reduced to rubble by the massive 27 May earthquake. Dani’s father used his own body to shelter his daughter from falling bricks, but while fleeing the collapsing house little Dani had the bad fortune of stepping on a rusty nail.

Over the next few days she experienced high fevers, seizures and finally, foaming at the mouth. Neighbours helped Dani’s mother carry the little girl to the village health post, where medics immediately referred them to a hospital in Yogyakarta. The doctors diagnosed tetanus, a disease which, if not treated early on and comprehensively, is often fatal.

Dani is one of 60 people known so far to have contracted tetanus in the harsh living conditions caused by the Yogyakarta earthquake. Already, one third of the tetanus patients have died. Local health officials worry that these numbers could increase rapidly.

Lethal environment in rubble

The earthquake and destruction it left behind created an environment in which survivors are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disease. With medical services overwhelmed by emergency demands, lesser injuries often go untreated.

© UNICEF video
UNICEF has begun administering free tetanus vaccinations in tandem with its measles immunization campaign at villages across quake-affected Central Java.

Meanwhile, water and sanitation conditions are poor in many of the affected areas, and hundreds of thousands of survivors are living in temporary shelters, exposed to the harsh elements.

“It is very common that in disasters of the Yogyakarta earthquake magnitude, the medical emergency is so acute that wounds are treated and then bandaged hastily, without proper sterilization or immunization, exposing survivors to tetanus,” said Dr. Brian Sriprahastuti of UNICEF’s Health Programme.

Reducing the risk

Dani’s bad luck finally ended after she was admitted to Bethesda Hospital in central Yogyakarta. Doctors and nurses there acted swiftly, cleaning the wound in her foot, administering antibiotics to combat the infection and immunizing Dani to strengthen her resistance.

Her condition improved rapidly and she will soon be allowed to return home. Of course ‘home’ is a relative term in post-quake Yogyakarta: Dani’s family now lives under a plastic tarpaulin, awaiting further aid so that they can soon begin to rebuild their house.

The threat of a major tetanus outbreak is being taken very seriously by aid agencies working in the earthquake-affected area and by government health authorities. UNICEF is leading efforts to launch a public awareness campaign in partnership with the provincial Department of Health.

The goal is to stress the importance of remaining immunized and to help people recognize the symptoms of tetanus. UNICEF has also begun administering free tetanus vaccinations in tandem with its measles immunization campaign at villages across quake-affected Central Java.




19 June 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Elizabeth Kiem reports on the threat of tetanus infection for survivors of the Indonesian earthquake.
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