Humanitarian Health Action

Health response moving ahead rapidly

Daily briefing
6 January 2005

The health response to this disaster is moving ahead rapidly and WHO is actively playing its part. Across the affected region, hospital and medical staff are clearing away mounds of debris and the damage done by flooding in an effort to reopen urgently needed medical facilities. In Aceh, for example, staff at the Zainul Abidin General Hospital have been clearing mud and beginning the difficult process of returning the hospital to effective and hygienic working condition. During a visit by the WHO Director-General, Dr LEE Jong-wook, they said they were hoping to reopen at least the emergency service of the hospital as early as this Thursday.

One of the key areas which WHO is pursuing in its response to the earthquake and tsunami in South-east Asia is the development of a rapid disease surveillance and early warning system. Already, teams from the WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network have been identified and will be mobilized to be sent to the areas worst affected by the tsunami and its aftermath.

Prevention of communicable diseases has been a primary concern for WHO since the earthquake struck. Preventing, detecting and responding to outbreaks of respiratory and waterborne diseases continues to be the first priority. It is vital to ensure as far as is possible that people who have survived the tsunami do not become the victims of disease outbreaks. Already, several countries are reporting an increase in isolated cases of respiratory and diarrhoeal diseases.

Huge amounts of work are being done to restore safe drinking water supplies to as many as possible of the three to five million people worst affected by the tsunami. In Sri Lanka, for example, it is now estimated that as many as 60% of the sources of drinking water have now been cleaned, chlorinated and declared fit for use.

WHO Director-General, Dr LEE Jong-wook, is continuing his mission to the affected region today, taking part in the Special ASEAN Leaders' meeting on the Aftermath of the Tsunami, in Jakarta, Indonesia. He will travel to Sri Lanka on Friday to see continue to assess the extent of the devastation and more effectively plan WHO's response to the local populations.

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For more specific information on latest WHO activities in the affected region, please read today's situation report (6 January), also highlighting individual country-specific situations.

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