refugee tide swamps E Timor aid staff
The Australian 10 Dec 99
Sickly refugee tide swamps aid staff
From MICHAEL WARE in Dili
MALNOURISHED refugees returning from West Timor, many of them suffering from debilitating diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria and dysentery, are overwhelming East Timor's almost non-existent health system.
"People have been coming back from the countryside where they hid and from camps in West Timor, and we need to understand just how very, very sick they are," US doctor Dan Murphy said yesterday from his clinic in Dili, where he sees 300 to 400 people daily.
"From the camps, we're seeing unconscionable levels of tuberculosis, diarrhoea and malaria, and every single one of these people are so weak and rundown. They're still living in fear and their stress levels are through the roof.
"One poor kid came back, just three years old, and he had 56 worms. They came out of every orifice, his mouth, his anus, his nose," said Dr Murphy, who himself had to flee East Timor when his work with the poor and his fierce outspokeness landed him on a pro-Indonesian militia deathlist.
UN organisations and the regular swathe of non-government relief agencies scramble to bandaid a terminal problem, hampered by the magnitude of the disaster as well as their own slow-moving bureaucracies.
So far, since the end of the militias' bloody rampage following the August 30 independence ballot, 114,030 refugees have made it back from West Timor, other provinces of Indonesia, and Australia.
Dr Murphy laments the state of these people's health. "Women are still dying for want of a caesarian section. And that's not a pleasant way to die: three or four days of agonising labour to endure first."
He could not make it back to his old clinic in Motael when he returned to East Timor on September 26 because the Indonesian army (TNI) was there so he set up, ironically, in a TNI building.
Now his patients come to him from literally miles away. Some said they had walked since 2am to get there.
Dr Murphy is angry that the UN is not doing enough about the atrocious health services: "The problem is nothing is happening quick enough. It's all been very slow and it's almost imperceptible, that is if it's happening at all.
"The UN people seem more interested in getting their air-conditioned offices and smart computers organised, and having endless meetings, than actually doing anything.
"These people are being sold short."
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