Transcript of WHO podcast - 17 September 2008
Heavy rains and flooding have made thousands of people in Pakistan and Haiti homeless and cut off their access to health care. In this episode, we find out what WHO is doing to provide emergency health care in these two countries.
Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer and this is episode 46.
Heavy rains and flooding have made thousands of people homeless in Pakistan and Haiti and cut off their access to health care. In this episode, we find out what WHO is doing to provide emergency health care in these two countries.
In many developing nations, the dangers from flooding are life-threatening and real. Houses, shacks and shanty towns can be destroyed instantly as a result of heavy rain and flooding. In recent months, flooding in China and Bangladesh left millions homeless, with no access to clean water or food, medicines and treatment. Pakistan, India and the Caribbean countries have also been affected in more recent weeks.
In Pakistan, Peshawar and Rajanpur were the worst affected in heavy monsoon rains. Mud houses were washed away and clinics, bridges and other infrastructure destroyed. Some 423 000 people in Pakistan need urgent health care, particularly the elderly, sick and disabled. Many of these people have been forced to leave their homes as a result of armed violence too.
WHO and its partners have recently appealed for US$ 9.26 million to deal with this humanitarian crisis. Dr Khalif Bile, WHO's Representative in Pakistan, told us about the main threats to the displaced people and what WHO is doing.
Dr Khalif Bile: We are worried about the diarrheal diseases. We are investigating some epidemics in that context. We are also worried about the spread of measles, we are worried about malnutrition. We are worried about malaria because this is the season of malaria in that area of Pakistan. We are worried about acute respiratory infection in children because the weather is also becoming chilly. We are worried about the accommodation of these communities and the coping capacity of the hosting communities. We are also concerned by not being able to reach people living in the area where the conflict is constraining the access to the populations.
Veronica Riemer: Can you tell us what WHO is doing to mitigate these threats?
Dr Khalif Bile: WHO is currently working with other partners and the government to ensure maximum effort for the provision of medicines, in the forecasting and investigating and controlling epidemics, ensuring the cooperation with other partners and to look at the issue of water and sanitation, and food availability. All these issues are being looked at by the UN system, other humanitarian partners and the government.
Veronica Riemer: Heavy rains have also caused chaos in several countries in the Caribbean. In Haiti, two tropical storms have killed at least 300 people. Some 800 000 people need urgent health care. The storms have also cut off water and food supplies. This increases the risk of civil unrest as convoys delivering supplies are ambushed.
WHO is seeking US$ 1 million to prevent the spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever. The funds will be used to ensure uninterrupted access to essential medicines and supplies. Dr Dana Van Alphen, WHO's Regional Disaster Preparedness and Response Advisor, told us about the health challenges.
Dr Dana Van Alphen: There are many vulnerable groups in Haiti. First of all, because the agriculture, the crops are estimated over 15 000 hectares that have been destroyed, so people will have no food. Soon they will start getting acute malnutrition. Secondly, because most of the public system is based on cost recovery, people have to pay. Although there is a very nominal fee, it is not much money you have to pay, but you need to have that money. Therefore, WHO and also various international NGOs, they give the drugs for free, the treatments are for free and also consultation. But people will have to pay if they only have access to health centre.
Thirdly, there are a lot of people who are on antiretrovirus treatment (HIV and TB) and those treatments have been interrupted. Right now we are trying to see what stocks are available. They could be sent to Gonaive by boat for the patients who were on treatment. So patients with chronic diseases, children because of acute malnutrition, pregnant women are in danger, maternal mortality was of concern before the flood and now it is even more so.
Veronica Riemer: Can you tell us about the focus of WHO's work right now?
Dr Dana Van Alphen: We are going to concentrate on coordination because more and more international actors are coming in. We are going to concentrate on supplies, provision of drugs and medical supplies and medical teams from the Ministry of Health to health centres so that some of them could be reopened immediately.
Veronica Riemer: Dr Van Alphen says WHO is going to concentrate on disease surveillance. Dengue fever and malaria are endemic in Haiti. WHO plans to purchase equipment and send teams to spray insecticide in the flooded areas.
Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening.
If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics do drop us a line. Our email address is Podcast@who.int.
For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.