Ocean Waves and Roadside Spirits: Thai health service providers’ post-tsunami psychosocial health

Emma Varley, Ph.D; Wanrudee Isaranuwatchai, Ph.D; Peter C. Coyte, Ph.D;
Overseas Development Institute, c2012

A massive earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia triggered a tsunami on 26 December 2004. At least five million people around the world were affected, and the total number of deaths exceeded 280,000. In Thailand, the tsunami struck six southern provinces, where the disaster’s immediate impact was catastrophic. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Phang Nga Province (2007), this paper provides an overview of the disaster’s psychosocial consequences for Thai health service providers, the vast majority of whom were bypassed by regional post-tsunami mental health initiatives. The available tsunami literature only briefly attends to health providers’ experience of professional ‘burn-out’, rather than explores the tsunami’s wide spectrum of psychosocial effects. This research aims to remedy such oversights through‘critical medical’ and ‘interpretive phenomenological’ analysis of the diverse and culturally-situated ways in which health providers’ experienced the tsunami. The paper concludes by arguing for disaster-related psychosocial interventions to involve health providers explicitly.

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