Paperwork Issue Impedes Chuuk Medicine Shipment

by Scott Radway

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News): July 30, 2002 - A half-million dollars worth of medicine is available for Chuuk state's tropical storm-induced medical crisis, but the supplies are stuck in Hawai'i until the local government agrees to pay for 25 percent of the cost.

Chuuk is part of the Federated States of Micronesia. Three days after submitting a request to take the supplies to desperate islanders, the FSM president's office has not signed off on the necessary paperwork, said William Piggott, a Federal Emergency Management Agency official.

By federal law, if the national government does not sign off, the supplies cannot be sent, Piggott said.

"Our hands are tied," Piggott said. "We've got our people in Washington with list in hand and all they have to have is a sign-off and the buttons will be pushed [...] we can have supplies here in 48 hours."

An official with FSM President Leo Falcam's office contacted late yesterday said it did not appear the request to send supplies was received, although the matter would be further researched today.

Chuuk State was devastated July 2 when then-Tropical Storm Chata'an's heavy rainfall triggered 30 landslides, killed 47 people, injured dozens and left more than a 1,000 homeless.

Since then, the state's limited health-care system has been overwhelmed and in some cases, untreated minor infections have led to amputations.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official Dr. Mark Keim reported from Chuuk Sunday that he believes the medical situation there is worsening, and one major reason is the lack of medical supplies.

Piggott said Chuuk had a small amount of medical supplies prior to the storm, but all of those were lost in landslides when dispensaries were buried in mud.

"Now they have absolutely nothing," Piggott said, adding that medicines such as antibiotics would be sent and could possibly prevent more amputations.

FEMA officials want to get the supplies sent from Hawai'i before Chuuk's one boat available for shipments is sent to the outer islands again. The medical supplies would be divided between the state's main islands and outer islands.

Piggott said FEMA officials are working with the Guam-based Ayuda Foundation, which has long sent aid to Chuuk during emergencies and spearheaded the relief effort after the landslides. Carlotta Leon Guerrero, co-executive director of Ayuda, said the organization planned to send medical supplies on the boat this week, but sent only food, in part, because of the medical supply hold-up.

"We need to get them some help," Leon Guerrero said. "They don't have any medicine to do the work that they need to do."