The magnitude and scale of the 26 December 2004 tsunami disaster relative to the size and population of the Maldives is unprecedented in living memory. The tsumani inundated the entire country. One-third of the population, approximately 100,000 people, was severely affected. Their homes were destroyed or heavily damaged, they have no or very limited access to clean water and food, and they are at risk of disease and ill-health.
The lack of access to clean water, adequate shelter, food, sanitation and health infrastructure is having a significant impact on the health status of the population. As a direct result of polluted water and seawater contamination, thousands of people are now facing serious threats of disease such as diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis, viral fever, and dysentery. Vector-borne diseases also pose significant threats. Vulnerable groups including pregnant women, children and the elderly are particularly at risk. It is essential to rapidly establish an early-warning communicable disease surveillance, verification and response system for early detection and control of disease outbreaks including the provision of basic laboratory services for confirmation of outbreaks.
The importance of addressing reproductive health cannot be underestimated. Currently, there are 1,800 pregnant women scattered across the 200 islands who have been affected by the disaster. Within six months, 900 of these women will deliver their babies, regardless of the health facilities available. To date, one regional hospital, two atoll hospitals, 19 health centers, 21 health posts and 33 family health sections have been damaged to varying degrees. These include many that are severely damaged and are not functioning. Supplies and equipment have been destroyed in multiple health service delivery points.