Sri Lanka was among the worst affected countries by the tsunami killing 30,000 and displacing 850,000 people. Damaged water and sanitation systems threatened potential disease outbreaks, including cholera, typhoid, shigellosis and hepatitis, as well as vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. Poor and cramped living conditions exposed displaced people to increased risk of measles, mumps, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and meningitis. Immediate public health action was needed but health systems were severely damaged and unable to respond.
WHO's action plan to respond to the crisis targeted approximately one million affected people.
WHO strengthened active disease surveillance and early warning systems. A Public Health Inspector now works in each camp contributing significantly to timely reporting and treating of suspected diseases. WHO strengthened the Ministry of Health's communication technology infrastructure for data collection: a New Dengue Control Unit monitors dengue cases, an Epidemiological Unit serves as an early warning system facilitating epidemic response and a Regional Medical Supplies Division reinforces the medical supply chain system.
WHO assistance significantly improved laboratory technical services ensuring swift and accurate diagnosis allowing for timely and correct treatment. As a result of these initiatives, disease outbreaks were avoided.
The over 180 agencies and NGOs operating in Sri Lanka needed coordination. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, WHO helped with health response coordination at the central and district level.
WHO along with others made sure the imported medical supply chain system functioned well. WHO also provided basic drugs and health supplies.
Vector control / water and sanitation
WHO facilitated vector control campaigns and worked to improve water and sanitation and waste disposal management at the district level.
With the Ministry of Health, WHO developed psychosocial-support training programmes for healthcare workers. WHO also helped with recruiting and training psychosocial health workers who were deployed to camps.
Focusing on key hospitals and health centres, technical expertise was provided to replace lost assets, infrastructure and supplies. Previously available health services were reactivated.