Current Operations

‘It’s a war zone’

The Marshall Islands Journal reports on the Dengue fever outbreak and response

Majuro hospital “is like a war zone”—all beds occupied and health authorities considering putting cots in the hallways as the dengue outbreak ramped up with the highest number of cases over the weekend, and a flood of patients arrive daily reeling from an influenza outbreak.

Meantime, with measles outbreaks hitting multiple countries in the South Pacific, causing many deaths, the Ministry of Health also ramped up its measles outreach immunization program to get every child under five a measles booster shot as protection for the possible entry of measles to RMI. Public Health zone nurses have been going house-to-house giving out measles and flu shots, as well as Vitamin A, to children under five who are considered the most vulnerable.

A total of 46 dengue cases were seen at Majuro hospital Saturday and Sunday, the most in a two-day period since the outbreak started three months ago.

For the past few days, the emergency room and the outpatient clinic have looked more like Grand Central Station in New York City at rush hour than their usual laidback appearance.

“We had 230 people come to ER over three days,” said Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal. “One doctor saw 65 patients in the outpatient clinic this week.” To say the situation is overwhelming is to be guilty of an understatement.

To boost services and support the overwhelmed Majuro hospital medical and nursing staff, the ministry is bringing teams of “surge” nurses and doctors from the US.

This week Wednesday, a group of nurses from the US relief organization Team Rubicon arrived for a two-to-three week period. They are to be followed by two waves of teams comprised of doctors and nurses over the next several weeks, all of whom will assist the ministry in managing the dual dengue and flu outbreaks, said Niedenthal.

“The hospital has been overwhelmed with flu cases on top of the dengue outbreak,” he said in reply to a social media post about the hospital running out of dengue test kits. “In many cases, we need to test flu victims for dengue. We will have more test kits late tomorrow (Wednesday).

We have had literally hundreds of people in the hospital over the past few days. We are bringing in surge nurses from the US. We are asking that everyone be patient with our health workers. We have been in a State of Health Emergency since August. We are doing the best we can, but many of our health workers are exhausted.” With the huge influx of sick people coming to the hospital for treatment, hospital officials are reaching out to donor partners to provide donations of basic medications, including bags of saline solution that will soon be in short supply because of the heavy current demand.

Niedenthal described the hospital as looking like “a war zone” and added they are dealing with the dual concern for providing needed health services for patients as well as taking care of the health of health workers, many of whom are overwhelmed having been working long hours for months because of the dengue and now flu situations.

“We ran out of beds (in the hospital),” Niedenthal said of the huge number of sick people needing hospitalization. “We may have to put cots in the hallways or offices to accommodate all the patients.”

This article first ran on November 29 in the Marshall Islands Journal.

Giff Johnson is a Marshall Islands-based editor and journalist, and the editor of the Marshall Islands Journal. He is also the Marshall Islands correspondent for Radio New Zealand and for ABC Radio Australia.