Japan's medical system unprepared for health crisis

An 83-year-old man injured while escaping from tsunami flooding rests at a shelter, Monday, March 14, 2011, in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, three days after northeastern coastal towns were devastated by an earthquake and tsunami. AP Photo/Kyodo News

An 83-year-old man injured while escaping from tsunami flooding rests at a shelter, Monday, March 14, 2011, in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.
AP Photo/Kyodo News
Despite its status among the world's most advanced industrialized nations, Japan has proven ill equipped to respond to the health crisis unfolding after its devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the medical journal The Lancet said Tuesday.

The journal said that the largely rural earthquake-stricken region is suffering from a shortage of doctors and nurses and highlighted desperate conditions in still-operating hospitals and medical clinics, where usable food, water and medical supplies are scarce.

"The case of Senen General Hospital in Takajo, a town in Miyagi prefecture, is typical of other medical facilities in the tsunami zone. About half the 100 patients were severely ill before the calamity, and the remaining 80 have been transferred to shelters. For the first few days after the disaster the hospital had no running water and patients survived on frozen noodles and vegetables retrieved from a damaged freezer," author Justin McCurry wrote in the report (PDF). "Employees at other hospitals have reported similarly desperate conditions, with the lack of water the most pressing concern."

At a hospital in Futaba authorities discovered 128 elderly patients, some of them comatose, who appear to have been abandoned by medical staff; 14 died.

The report also said described the Japanese health care system as "ill prepared to address long-term mental health problems triggered by the disaster," including the likely need to provide post-trauma counseling for thousands of survivors who lost loved ones and over 100,000 children displaced by the disaster.

  • CBS News Staff

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