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UNICEF and ECHO provide vital health services to cyclone-affected Malagasy villages

© UNICEF Madagascar/2008/Gill
Mothers and children from the village of Antsiraka, in an area of Madagascar affected by Cyclone Ivan, queue up to receive basic health services and supplies, including mosquito nets.

By Claire Stout and Lubna Bhayani

ANTISIRAKA, Madagascar, 17 July 2008 – At first glance, the village of Antsiraka is an idyllic setting. Clear blue waters lap the shores of a white sandy beach, and palm trees mark the entrance to this remote village, which is only accessible by bicycle or boat.

Here, however, appearances are deceptive. Lying directly in the path of Cyclone Ivan, Antsiraka was all but wiped out on 17 February 2008.

“Out of 204 houses, only 12 are left standing,” said Rivane, the owner of one of the remaining houses. “We were more than 20 people in one small house and we are taking turns preparing the meals for everyone.”

Supplying vital medicines
In the months since Cyclone Ivan struck, UNICEF has partnered with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) to deliver vital medicines to 36 health centres and conducted other outreach activities in 20 remote villages in cyclone-affected areas.

© UNICEF Madagascar/2008/Stout
Children of Antsiraka village run down to the shore to meet the UNICEF team arriving in an ECHO-funded boat.

As part of that response, a UNICEF team travelled to Antisiraka by motor boat. Villagers heard the rare sound of visitors and came running to the beach.

After meeting the village chief, the team set up a temporary clinic in a small shelter. A health worker from the team stayed in the village for two days before heading to other villages along the coast.

“It is very rare to see any boats arriving here,” a pre-school teacher, Veronique Tehova Sahondranirina, told the UNICEF team. “We are extremely happy to see you here and, of course, very grateful for your visit.”

Access to essential care
Life is not easy for the 667 inhabitants of Antsiraka. There is no market or access to secondary school in the village. The nearest operational health centre is in Antanifotsy, 24 km away. The villagers must go there by boat or bicycle, or travel the distance on foot.

“Faced with such a long journey, the majority of inhabitants surrender their rights to basic health care,” said the head of the Antanifotsy Health Centre, Dr. Roger Ravelo. 

UNICEF and ECHO have conducted outreach activities in hard-to-reach Malagasy villages in order to ensure that cyclone-affected communities have access to essential health care.

Villagers not forgotten
As part of the initial emergency response, a first round of vaccinations was given to children in March. Emphasis was also placed on the treatment of malaria, acute respiratory diseases and diarrhoea.

A large proportion of the cyclone-affected population lives in highly inaccessible areas. Many of them had never received basic health care services, routine vaccinations or checkups.

For a remote village such as Antsiraka, the free health care provided in the wake of Cyclone Ivan has been vital. Also important, however, is the feeling that they have not been forgotten.



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