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Preventing the second wave

Army Reserve officer Captain Mick Kent, from the Environmental Health Section at the Anzac Field Hospital, located in the Banda Aceh Hospital, hangs a mosquito trap prior to nightfall. The Environmental Health Section constantly monitors the mosquito population in the Banda Aceh area for signs of malaria and dengue fever.
 
Major Paul Byleveld, a reservist with the Australian Army 8th Combat Service Support Battalion, Dundas, is on leave of absence from his civilian employment as Manager of the Water Unit, New South Wales Health. He is conducting readings to check the level of chlorine in the field water supply for members of the Australian Defence Force in Banda Aceh.
 
Major Paul Byleveld, a reservist with the Australian Army 8th Combat Service Support Battalion, Dundas, is on leave of absence from his civilian employment as Manager of the Water Unit, New South Wales Health. He is conducting readings to check the level of chlorine in the field water supply for members of the Australian Defence Force in Banda Aceh.
 

By Corporal Cameron Jamieson - filed 09 February 2005

The deadly tsunami that swept across the northwest coast of Aceh did more than destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

It also paved the way for a second deadly wave - a wave of disease.

Raw sewage and contaminated water from the rice paddies have polluted many of the traditional sources of drinking water, creating the potential for an outbreak of water-borne disease.

There is also the possibility of mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, spreading among the weakened population.

To stop this, the Australian Army quickly deployed environmental health soldiers as part of Operation Sumatra Assist.

Major Paul Byleveld, a Reserve soldier with the 8th Combat Service Support Battalion in Dundas, NSW, took leave from his civilian employment as Manager of the NSW Water Unit to be deployed to Aceh.

He said the Environmental Health Section at the Anzac Field Hospital in Banda Aceh was busy providing health support measures to both the ADF personnel and the local community.

"Our first priority is to make sure the facilities that Australian personnel are living and working in are safe and clean," he said.

"We take disease control measures to make sure that sanitation facilities are hygienic and that mosquitos are being controlled.

"We're also working with Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps to look after the people there."

Fellow Army Reserve officer Captain Mick Kent said despite the difficult sanitation and hygiene conditions that existed when they arrived, they have been able to overcome the situation and help others.

"We've improved our location and we have managed to push out and do a fair bit with the IDP camps," he said.

"The reaction of the local people has been fantastic - they are very polite and appreciative of our help.

"The people in the IDP camps have been keen to be trained in mosquito control measures, as they understand the importance of public health and are particularly concerned about mosquito-borne diseases."

One of the major public health victories in the weeks following the Boxing Day disaster was the lack of a disease outbreak.

Maj Byleveld attributes this in part to the swift implementation of public health measures, which included the provision of safe drinking water by Australian engineers.

"For disease outbreaks to occur you need people who are sick with a certain illness and you need the conditions for that illness to spread," he said.

"It appears that the community was in fairly good health before the tsunami, and early on the Australian engineers established a water point that distributed clean water to the community.

"The combination of these has probably staved off disease outbreaks."

The work of preventing disease outbreaks is continuing, especially in the IDP camps.

"The IDPs are being supplied with safe drinking water and proper sanitary facilities," Maj Byleveld said.

"We are also providing mosquito control measures in the IDP camps, as there are concerns that there will be an outbreak of either malaria or dengue fever due to the record of these outbreaks occurring in the past.

"So we are working with local public health authorities and the Indonesian military to prevent this from happening."

Despite the long working hours and the devastation he is surrounded by, Maj Byleveld has found the deployment to Aceh to be a positive experience.

"We've been a small part in a big picture," he said,"but the people have been so thankful for what we have done."

 

 

 
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