Though three years will soon have passed since the March 2011 natural disasters and nuclear crisis, 267,000 people are still forced to live as evacuees.
The system to protect the health of disaster victims must be expanded and further improved.
About 100,000 of the victims live in small, prefab temporary housing. Forced to live away from their hometowns in isolated environments with no familiar faces, many evacuees tend to stay in their rooms all day long.
There have been many cases in which they develop such lifestyle-related diseases as hypertension and diabetes and fall into a state of depression.
With the loss of homes and jobs, some evacuees cannot see any hope of reconstructing their livelihood. This casts dark clouds over them both physically and mentally.
The situation is especially serious for residents who formerly lived along the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, as they cannot be sure of any prospect of returning home due to the continued effects of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Alleviating the psychological stress of victims is a major challenge.
It is also important to deal with the continued increase in deaths caused by health deterioration due to such chronic illnesses as heart disease in the aftermath of the disaster.
Many medical institutions have yet to be rebuilt after being damaged by tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake. In some areas, railways have been left cut off. As a result, it is not easy for disaster victims to go to hospitals.
Local governments are urged to make such arrangements as home-based medical services after obtaining assistance from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the prefectural governments concerned.
In the case of temporary housing in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, where about 4,000 evacuees live, doctors and nurses are sent from a temporary clinic built on the housing site to take care of the residents. There are also support staff for disaster survivors, who have work experience as health aides and make the rounds of housing units.
There are said to be cases in which such staffers have discovered residents' health problems as they often talked to them, and ailing evacuees were able to receive medical treatment through their referrals.
Aid must be multilateral
Junichi Cho, director of the temporary clinic, said: "It is difficult to take care of the disaster victims with doctors and nurses alone. It is essential for various kinds of people in society to provide cooperation."
The population has been aging further in the disaster-stricken areas due to an outflow of young people.
Those involved in medical treatment and nursing care, as well as nonprofit organisations and volunteers, sustain home-based medical services for the elderly. Such a support system must be established nationwide amid the rapid aging of the population and is most urgently needed in disaster-affected areas.
Such areas were suffering a shortage of doctors even before the disaster occurred.
To help secure a sufficient number of doctors, the government has decided to permit the establishment of new medical departments at universities, which have not been allowed for a long time, only in the Tohoku region. This is expected to have some effect from a mid- to long-term perspective.
In addition, assistance measures must be taken to promote the assignment of doctors and nurses to disaster-stricken and under populated areas plagued by a shortage of such personnel.
The most crucial task for the moment is to secure enough doctors. Medical societies and hospitals across the country must join hands to ensure the continued dispatch of doctors to the disaster-affected areas.