Interview of Kentaro Mizuya by Kristy

Kentaro Mizuya (Ken) is a physiotherapist working in Japan. With a passion for humanitarian work, Ken has joined a few ADAPT events and shared his experience. We were interested to learn more about Ken’s experience, hence we had an informal interview in which Ken shared more about his humanitarian work.

When speaking of what sparked his passion for humanitarian work, Ken talked about an experience during high school: He had an interview with a man from developing country, which inspired him to explore other parts of the world and improve the quality of life of those in need. After becoming a physiotherapist, this experience continued to encourage him to make use of his physiotherapy skills and dedicate himself to humanitarian work.

Ken has had various experiences of humanitarian work as a physiotherapist:

  1. He volunteered in Dominican Republic in 2011-2013. He was mainly involved in the rehabilitation of patients and education of clinicians on mobilisation techniques.
  2. Ken’s first humanitarian experience was as part of the response to the Earthquake in Kumamoto in 2016, when he mainly worked on providing shelters and support to victims.
  3. His most recent humanitarian work was in Mozambique in 2019. Here he was mainly rehabilitating patients and supporting the medical team.

Fig1. Picture of Ken teaching manipulation skills at Dominican Republic

Fig2. Picture of Ken repairing a wheelchair in Kumamoto

In 2017, Ken registered with the Japanese Governmental Emergency Medical Team as one of the first few physiotherapists. The Japanese Governmental Emergency Medical Team is part of the Japan Disaster Relief (JDR) team and is classified by WHO as Type 2 Emergency Medical Team. JDR is run by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). JDR has existed since 1979, but their response to the Nepal earthquake in 2015 was the first mission that included a physio as a part of JDR medical team.  Ken participated in the second one, which was the Mozambique cyclone response in 2019.

Ken shared the details of the response to Mozambique. In March 15th 2019 Cyclone IDAI hit Mozambique, leading to more than 1,000 deaths. The JICA organised JDR for the response: The first medical team was dispatched on March 28th, and second team on April 5th. Ken was part of the second dispatched medical team.

Fig3. Picture of destructed buildings in Mozambique

There were a few roles as a physiotherapist in the team. Apart from attending to patients with rehabilitation needs, another major part of the volunteer work is assisting the normal function of the medical team. This includes interviewing patients in the reception area, maintaining equipment such as tents, toilets and generators, burning waste, preparing meals, and other non-clinical work.

Fig4. Picture of field clinic and accommodation area in Mozambique

Including follow-ups, 794 patients attended the clinic. The most common diseases were acute respiratory infections, acute watery diarrhoea, malaria and cholera. Among these patients, around 5 had rehabilitation needs.

When speaking of the differences between work in Mozambique and that in Japan, Ken said that due to the nature of the response, they had to be creative and flexible with the resources around them. This included making walking aids with wooden sticks from local trees. At the same time, they also had to be aware of the effective use of resources. For instance, due to a shortage of plastic chairs, they made use of card board boxes and issued them to patients instead. This was because it would be unfair if only some patients have received them.

Fig5. Picture of Ken issuing crafted stick to patient

Apart from lack of resources, there were a few more challenges faced by the medical team. The weather at Mozambique is extremely hot, with temperatures of up to 52 degrees. This can easily cause dehydration and general discomfort of the patients and staffs. In addition, the area of major traumas was far away from city centre, leading to bad access and delayed arrival of equipment. In terms of medical perspective, data collection was difficult as there was inconsistency on the type of instruments being used. Also, there were no exercise handouts that could be issued to patients after therapy sessions. Despite these challenges, the medical team was welcomed by the locals and blended in well with them.

Fig6. Picture of the medical team and the locals

The field clinical was open for 12 days, and Ken and his medical team left on April 17th. When asked about other thoughts on this volunteer work, Ken said that humanitarian work connects people, and that even under the worst circumstances, there are no people who don’t smile. Ken plans to continue with the humanitarian work and get involved in JDR. He hopes to work abroad when he has fewer social commitments.

Reflection on the interview

In this interview, what motivated me the most is the passion and dedication Ken had on humanitarian work. As there was no overseas physiotherapy overseas network in Japan, Ken joined other virtual events organised by other international physiotherapy networks in order to learn more about physiotherapy humanitarian work. That was quite similar to that in Hong Kong where I’m from: The role of physiotherapists in humanitarian work is not as significantly recognised as that of Doctors. Also, as a student with no real-life experience with humanitarian work, I was quite surprised that the major part of the volunteer work is non-clinical.