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Survivors of Bam earthquake urgently require public health supplies and medicines

The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes the urgent health needs of the tens of thousands of people affected by the recent earthquake in Bam, Islamic Republic of Iran. The health risks of exposure to cold night temperatures, inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, and insufficient care for people's injuries are amongst the many serious health concerns.

To date, at least 26, 700 people have been buried as a result of the Bam earthquake. Approximately 30,000 are injured, and more than 12,000 of these people have been admitted to hospitals in other parts of the country. In total, the earthquake destroyed approximately 20,000 homes of the 90,000 inhabitants.

The physical structures of the main hospitals in Bam, and several urban and rural health clinics, have also collapsed. Many medical staff and other health workers have been injured or killed. With the immediate response and the coordination efforts of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, the Red Crescent and other sectors, sufficient manpower and facilities have been dispatched and are now providing preventive and curative health emergency services to all needing it.

Dr LEE Jong-wook, the Director-General of WHO, in his letter of condolences to the Minister of Health and Medical Education of the Islamic Republic of Iran, said: "The profound tragedy of thousands of people killed has caused emotional and psychological trauma for the tens of thousands of people who have survived. It is now imperative to ensure their mental and physical well-being to the fullest extent possible during this fragile period".

Dr Hussein A. Gezairy, the Regional Director for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, in his condolences message to the President and to the Minister of Health and Medical Education, reaffirmed the commitment of WHO to provide necessary technical and material support to the Islamic Republic of Iran. He said: "The priorities are to take care of the survivors, reduce the negative health impacts of the harsh environmental conditions on them, re-establish systems that keep a look out for communicable diseases and - if they are detected - make sure that they are quickly controlled, and re-start health care services ensuring adequate psychological counselling and care to those who survived the tragedy".

The Minister of Health and Medical Education, who is coordinating the overall health aspects of the response, has specified that there are many health needs. However, he has indicated that, at this stage, there is no further need for field hospitals or human resources, as most of the seriously wounded have been airlifted to health facilities in other cities, or treated in field and makeshift hospitals established in Bam.

Preliminary estimates by the Ministry of Health and Medical Education consider that the reconstruction and operationalization of the health system in Bam and its district, which still need an in-depth assessment, will require at least US$25 million.

To improve the health conditions of the earthquake survivors, WHO is now appealing for US$3.5 million for immediate use by the Iranian authorities to purchase supplies, rehabilitate health facilities and provide vital public and community health services.

Since the earthquake on 26 December, WHO has set up a team that is working with the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education and local officials in the affected area. Team members include experts in emergency health care, epidemiology of diseases, information collection and analysis, environmental health, and health service planning. WHO experts are also ready to set up emergency teams to respond to disease outbreaks and contain epidemics.

To make sure that the external assistance now reaching the Islamic Republic of Iran is well used, national authorities are establishing coordination mechanisms. WHO is supporting the Iranian health authorities to coordinate assistance for health by helping to circulate information among partners, encouraging the discussion of needs and lines of action, and helping those concerned to reach consensus on how to get the best response to the health risks faced by all of those who are affected.

For further information, please contact Dr Rayana Buhakah, WHO Desk Officer responsible for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Health Action in Crisis, + 41 22 791 3748 or mobile: + 41 79 254 6830.

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