I usually respond to health questions in this column.
Those concerns, of course, are important, but with millions affected in such an overwhelming way by the tsunami in Southeast Asia, I feel compelled to use this space to draw attention to an organization — one I know well — that is doing its utmost to bring aid to the victims of this unimaginable tragedy.
I am proud to be on the board of trustees of Save the Children, one of the many aid agencies that responded immediately and effectively to this emergency.
Save the Children has been working in Southeast Asia for nearly 30 years. We have — or had — field offices and health centers in the most devastated areas of Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Sadly, in Banda Aceh, the major city nearest the earthquake’s epicenter, our midwife training center was destroyed. Ten midwives were killed. These women not only delivered babies but provided health care to entire villages.
The dead, of course, are beyond help, but the millions of survivors are not. They are at enormous risk of disease.
They lack food and clean water. Starvation is an immediate threat, as are diseases rarely seen in the Western world — dysentery, typhoid, cholera and more than 50 other illnesses spread by contaminated water.
Save the Children has dispatched supply trucks to the hardest-hit areas. We are trying to prevent further loss of life through distribution of clean water, food, shelter, medicines and water-purification tablets in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
We are also reuniting separated youngsters with their families and providing nutrition for children, especially those under the age of 5. We have recruited about 150 workers, many of them volunteer doctors and nurses.
A cargo plane is due to arrive shortly in the worst-hit area, Aceh province in Indonesia, so that we can distribute bottled water, non-perishable food, baby food and clothing. We are building temporary health centers and providing health kits to midwives in almost 1,000 communities. Each kit contains antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs, wound-care dressings and dehydration therapies for up to 1,000 people.
In order to care for the many children orphaned and traumatized, we are developing a long-term response that will help with their housing, security, mental health and education.
This crisis is greater than any that most aid organizations have ever experienced. For years to come, the relief effort will remain extraordinarily challenging.
The most effective way to help is through gifts to the major relief agencies that can provide supplies and care. Money is best — the cash spent transporting donations of food, clothing and other household items can usually be better used buying supplies, services and equipment nearer the disaster zone.
As we saw the tragedy unfold, watching in horror as the scope of disaster became known, most of us felt individual and collective concern for those whose lives have been devastated. Those feelings have led to an enormous outpouring of donations to charities trying to help the tsunami victims.
If you have not already given — or if you already have made a donation but feel the need to do more — I urge you to dig deep to help an aid organization such as Save the Children (www.savethechildren.org).
Let’s hope that the New Year will bring better news, including recovery for all of those who have survived this terrible calamity.
— Judith Reichman, MD
Dr. Judith Reichman, the “Today” show's medical contributor on women's health, has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 20 years. You will find many answers to your questions in her latest book, "Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You," published by William Morrow, a division of .
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.