The overwhelming humanitarian emergency facing countries affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004, as well as the Nias island earthquake on 28 March 2005, led international, regional and national-level groups to assist in short, medium and long-term recovery from the disaster. Indonesia was hit hardest, particularly the provinces of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (Aceh) and North Sumatra (Nias Islands). Indonesia’s victims numbered nearly 230,000 (1), as documented in the months immediately following the tsunami. Relief operations were focused on preventing a second wave of casualties from disease and malnutrition among the displaced and homeless survivors (numbering over 750,000 (1) in Indonesia). At a global experts’ meeting in late 2004, to which Helen Keller International (HKI) was invited to contribute its expertise, the importance of vitamins and minerals (V&M) in emergency situations was highlighted. It was concluded that V&M offer an unparalleled combination of six key advantages as a first-line response in disaster situations, where poor sanitation and limited food are serious problems: 1) high impact, 2) low cost, 3) minimal storage needs, 4) minimal or no preparation, 5) easy transportation, and 6) providing a gateway for assessment of additional need. Recognizing this, HKI initiated assistance focusing on Supplementation with Micronutrients (SUM) (2) in Aceh and North Sumatra, Indonesia, to assist in the overall relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction effort led by the Government of Indonesia (GOI) and the Ruins in the city of Banda Aceh. Woman on Simeulue island. United Nations. Several factors enabled HKI to rapidly initiate the SUM within weeks of the tsunami. Firstly, HKI had access to and knowledge on how to distribute, administer and promote vitamin A capsules (VAC) through its years-long involvement in the nationwide mass media and social marketing campaign to promote the national VAC supplementation program (3). HKI was also able to obtain a large donation of dispersible zinc tablets from Nutriset for distribution to medical and other health personnel. Another critical factor was HKI’s previous work in conducting pilot studies on iron fortified soy sauce and the multivitamin-mineral sprinkles, testing their acceptance among target groups and impact on nutritional and health status, which allowed HKI to mobilize resources for using these innovative, new products to enhance the nutritional quality of survivor SIGHT AND LIFE 32 NEWSLETTER 3/2005 populations’ food aid rations. Furthermore, HKI’s partnerships with Heinz ABC and Akzo Nobel in the above-mentioned pilot studies enabled local production of these V&M preparations and their rapid deployment to Aceh and North Sumatra through partnerships with other NGOs.
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