Getting humanitarian assistance through to the survivors of Burma's Cyclone Nargis may be proving difficult, but two UNSW-supported trainees are already on the ground providing much-needed crisis relief.
The two Burmese nationals, employed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), attended a workshop in Kuala Lumpur, aimed at reducing disability and death in post-crisis situations.
They returned to Burma two days after the cyclone struck and have since been in contact with Associate Professor Anna Whelan from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, telling her how they put what they learned into practice.
The two women organised the delivery of supplies and raised the issue of women's needs at the health cluster meeting. They later went to the affected region and held briefings for doctors, coordinators, field workers and volunteers from 16 agencies involved in the Nargis emergency response, drawing heavily on the course material.
Known as SPRINT, the program focuses on women and the sexual and reproductive ill-health which commonly results from disasters and conflicts. Research has shown that pregnancy and childbirth-related complications are the most common causes of death and disability amongst women in many situations of forced displacement.
"We emphasised the key advocacy messages on women's protection," wrote one of the women, adding that alongside the initiative, condoms, medicines and dignity kits were being distributed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The key element of the initiative is to increase the regional capacity of organisations to co-ordinate training and a response effort, when disaster strikes.
"While the cyclone has clearly been devastating for Burma, we are pleased that we can be of some help with the response effort," said Professor Whelan. "As natural disasters and conflict often happen without warning, this is a timely reminder of the importance of this sort of work."
The SPRINT initiative, funded by AusAID, is coordinated by the International Planned Parenthood Federation for the East, Southeast Asia and Oceania Region (IPPF ESEAOR) in partnership with UNFPA, UNSW and the Australian Reproductive Health Alliance (ARHA).
AusAID has spent $3 million funding the three-year program.