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For Japan tsunami survivors, particularly those who are elderly or have disabilities, access to health care can be a formidable challenge. When a local facility for people with disabilities could no longer support their shuttle that transported residents from the town of Yamada to the closest hospital 45 minutes away, AmeriCares and the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) worked together with the local facility, Kyouseikai, to fill the gap in funding and continue the vital door-to-door transportation service.
When the massive tsunami struck on March 11, 2011, Yamada lost 816 of its residents. Over 4,000 residents (25 percent of the town's population) now live in temporary housing. The closest hospital in Miyako is a 45-minute drive from Yamada. The tsunami destroyed the train line between the two towns, and commuting by bus for patients that must make weekly visits is cost prohibitive. Many residents must walk at least 30 minutes to reach the bus stop. The shuttle service was a lifeline for the town.
In February this year, the AmeriCares Japan team visited Yamada to accompany a group of elderly disaster survivors as they were transported by the shuttle to their medical appointments at the hospital in Miyako. For Ms. Budo, a survivor who is recovering from knee replacement surgery and must have regular rehabilitation, walking 30 minutes through snow in 15 degree weather to the bus stop is not an option.
When Ms. Budo heard that Kyouseikai secured shuttle funding by way of a U.S.-based donor, she was surprised and grateful. "Yamada has no funds for even the most basic services," she explained to the team. "So, without AmeriCares help, our difficult situation would have become even worse." Ms. Budo is sleeping "better" at night knowing that she and 150 other Yamada residents can continue to make it to their medical appointments.
Three years after the triple disaster, AmeriCares continues its recovery efforts, working closely with local partners to develop and sustain targeted programs that address sometimes overlooked but critically important physical and mental health needs of survivors.