"A multi-layered calamity": The race to save lives after Cyclone Idai (Part 3)

Dr Marthe Frieden was in Manicaland, Zimbabwe, working on an MSF diabetes project when Cyclone Idai hit, causing devastating flooding and deadly landslides. As the team race to save lives, she shares part three of her diary…

MSF's 'Skyline' stabilisation centre in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe

Read part 1 and part 2 of Marthe’s diary here.


Day 6 (Thursday 21 March)

Finally, a water tank arrives at Skyline – the stabilisation centre we have set up for survivors of the cyclone.

The number of patients arriving with physical trauma injuries decreases rapidly – it’s now been six days since the cyclone hit.

However the reduction in trauma patients doesn’t mean that we’re not busy. Residents from the mountainous area surrounding ‘Skyline’ turn up on foot in search of medication for HIV, diabetes, hypertension and asthma.  Some have lost their medication to the floods, and many can no longer access their health facilities.

We have to bridge the gap, and so the stabilisation centre becomes a primary healthcare unit.

There has been no road access to some of the worst affected areas since the cyclone, but today a road is opened up and our mobile teams are now able to access the affected areas by vehicle, but only if the rain stops.

With the emergency response ongoing, the dead being buried, the survivors being supported to rebuild their lives and infrastructure being reconstructed, it becomes clear to me that a bridge must be built between the emergency response and chronic care – that’s care for anyone with a pre-existing, ongoing condition – anything from HIV to diabetes.

Trauma victims with fractures or those who have sustained severe injuries will need follow-up care in the medium or long term, especially those with spinal injuries.

Survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder risk joining those whose mental health problems go untreated, as for many, mental health services and drugs are not readily available in Zimbabwe.  

The cyclone has intensified an existing socio-economic crisis in the region, and in the aftermath we are witnessing a multi-layered calamity: a drought, a crippling economic crisis, an underlying HIV epidemic, growing rates of diabetes, hypertension and other non-communicable diseases, and now the devastation caused by arguably the worst cyclone to hit the region in recorded history.

If progress is to be made in the medium and long term, multi-faceted support is needed. In the short term our Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams will remain alongside the health ministry and other organisations, building bridges where we can.