Objectives: To rapidly determine the public health impact of the Asian tsunami on the population of three communities in Aceh Jaya District, Indonesia, and to prioritize health interventions.
Methods: Rapid health assessment, utilizing direct observations, interviews with key informants, a single focus group discussion, town mapping, a review of medical records and a systematic random sample of the entire town of Calang, capital of Aceh Jaya District, Indonesia.
Results: Almost 100% of dwellings were destroyed in all three communities. For the town of Calang: only 18.2% of the pre-tsunami population remained 2 weeks following the disaster, with an estimated 70% of the population having died at the time of impact; government estimates of the remaining population were inflated by approximately 250%; mortality rates were not elevated post-tsunami; 100% of the population lacked access to sanitation and clean water; 85% of children under 5 years reported diarrhoea over the preceding 2 week period; 95% of individuals with a medical complaint reported satisfactory access to clinical care; acute malnutrition was not a significant problem; and over one-fifth of households were hosting an orphan. For the villages of Rigah and Sayeung: approximately 46.2 and 86.0% of the population survived the tsunami impact, respectively; mortality rates were not elevated post tsunami; 100% of the population lacked access to sanitation and clean water; diarrhoea was the main cause of morbidity; primary care services were available only in Rigah; and only Rigah had received external assistance.
Conclusions: Almost two-thirds of the population of the three communities died as a result of the tsunami's impact. Although mortality rates were not elevated post tsunami, significant threats to public health persisted, especially water-borne diseases. Priority activities included emergent environmental health interventions, mobile clinics to the two villages and a more detailed assessment of the needs of orphans. Data were shared with agencies better placed to address needs in the areas of shelter and food aid.