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Ministry of Social Affairs and Health stresses strong follow-up base in wake of Asian tsunami disaster

Publication date 25.5.2005 21.00
Press release N5-38253

Helsinki, 12 Jan: The initial stage of rescue work concerning Finnish victims of the Asian tsunami disaster is about complete, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health announced Tuesday. Now comes the painstaking task of providing ensuring follow-up support and services.

Finns injured in the disaster have been brought home and are receiving treatment and care. Arrangements have been made for other Finnish holiday makers who were in the affected areas to be brought home should they want. The first phase of psychosocial therapeutic care has been made available to returning tourists and to their families.

“The Asian tsunami catastrophe has and is still greatly affecting Finns in many ways, Liisa Hyssälä the Minister for Health and Social Services told journalists. “About 2,800 people have been evacuated from the area affected by the catastrophe. Some 200 Finns are still missing."

The minister said that somatic treatment arranged for returnees at Helsinki-Vantaa airport and at hospitals has been dealt with excellently. Most of the people who have received hospital care have been discharged and are getting home-based care.

Ms Hyssälä said that the emotional and psychological support given to people on arriving at the airport proceeded well, though it came close to stretching resource limits.

The Minister said that practically all municipalities have residents who are either victims of the tsunami catastrophe or are their relatives or loved ones.

“In the weeks ahead, victims of the disaster and those close to them will need a variety of types of support. The ministry is placing special emphasis on providing sufficient psychosocial support and services."

The Minister announced that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is convening a group of experts to offer guidance and backing for municipal health authorities in arranging psychosocial aid for victims of the disaster and their relatives. The group’s mandate will extend until the end of 2006.

Ms Hyssälä said that the information and experience gained during its work will greatly benefit the development of psychosocial services in Finland.

Health and social services are arranged through Finland’s 444 municipalities, so the responsibility for organising hospital care and psychosocial services rests mainly with the local system of primary health care. This is backed by specialised hospital care, private and so-called third sector – or NGO – services.

The extra costs of providing care and treatment to the tsunami’s victims will be covered by the state in the form of compensation to local authorities. A separate working group is to look into how this will proceed.

Child welfare officials in municipalities are also involved in following up the situation of children orphaned by the tsunami disaster. At present all children who have lost their parents are being cared for by relatives. Long-term arrangements for their care and maintenance will be worked out later.

The Minister also raised the issue of confidentiality concerning the identities of people who survived the disaster as well as those still missing.

The police and border control authorities have lists of both, and in the coming days there will be clarification on what other authorities can have access to the lists and on how they can be used. The ministry is currently liaising on this issue with the Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman.

In addition, an ad hoc working party has been based with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health since 3 January to consider the overall needs of those affected by the tsunami disaster. The group is currently focussed on carrying out after-care and follow-up treatment needs.

The working party is made up of a broad range of representatives. They include officials from government, the Social Insurance Institution, the Association of Local Authorities, the insurance sector, the Uusimaa Hospital District, faith communities, the Finnish Red Cross and the Association for Mental Health.

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