No sign of any health crisis yet, says WHO

Associated Press

Colombo, January 8:

No health crisis has emerged from crowded camps housing millions of refugees in tsunami-affected countries, the World Health Organization said today, but it cautioned health officials against lowering their guard. In Sri Lanka, the worst-hit nation after Indonesia by the December 26 killer waves, cases of diarrhoea have been reported but were not threatening to spread wildly, said WHO Director-General Dr Lee Jong-wook.

“It is normal after a catastrophe like this nature to have some disease, but they are under control,” he told reporters, declining to give precise figures.

Lee said WHO and associated agencies were still on alert for signs of infectious diseases. Thirty-eight medical specialists were in Sri Lanka to watch for any outbreak.

WHO had earlier estimated as many as 150,000 people are at extreme risk if a major disease broke out in the affected areas. The UN agency has reported cases of diarrhoea, respiratory and skin diseases and mental trauma, especially in Sumatra’s devastated Aceh region in Indonesia. Officials are concerned that unless the high level of international aid is sustained, the health system could collapse. Getting water purification tablets to survivors and building rudimentary toilets remain the focus of efforts to fend off disease.

The Geneva-based UN body warns that hygiene in the hundreds of refugee camps around coastal Asia is the biggest concern. An estimated 3 million to 5 million people are living in these centres. Lee said WHO was prepared to deal with any health crisis and will need at least $20 million to sustain the effort for three months.