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3.6 million Philippine flood victims threatened by outbreaks of communicable diseases: rapid response to UN flash appeal is essential

A boy carries a bag of food relief
A boy carries a bag of food relief in ravaged town of Infanta, Philippines.

Communicable diseases including malaria and diarrhoeal diseases threaten the lives of 3.6 million victims of recent storms and landslides in the Philippines. To tackle these health threats and to meet pressing relief needs, a "Flash Appeal" to raise US$6.4 million was launched today by the Government of the Philippines and the UN Country Team in the Philippines.

Four consecutive typhoons and tropical storms in late November and early December left 1,060 people dead, 1,023 injured and 559 missing in the north-east of the Philippines, while affecting an additional 3.6 million people. Many of the 880,000 people displaced by the floods are now reliant on external sources to meet their basic needs.

"This has been a terrible tragedy, and its impact is felt even more in this period just before the holidays," said Dr Jean-Marc Olivé, WHO Representative in the Philippines. "The priority now, from WHO's perspective, is to safeguard the health of survivors and to rehabilitate public health services. This task will demand considerable funds and great commitment from all involved."

The Philippine Department of Health has mobilized medical teams for rapid health assessments, surveillance, psychosocial services, and environmental health. Emergency drugs and medicines have been provided. Health education and public information in all affected areas have been intensified. However, the health of the affected population continues to be at risk given the immensity of the crisis.

Diarrhoeal diseases and upper respiratory infections require urgent attention. Survivors lack adequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. There is an increased risk of an outbreak of malaria, as it is endemic in the Philippines and standing water increases the likelihood of an outbreak of vector- and water-borne diseases. The nutritional status of the affected population needs to be closely monitored. Health facilities have suffered US$ 1.1 million in damages. Key equipment and medicine stocks were washed away or buried in mud. The remaining facilities are unequipped to meet the escalated needs of the affected population. The cold chain for the storage of vaccines and other essential medicines has been damaged by electricity outages. Many essential drugs and priority medical supplies need to be replaced.

WHO, at the request of the Department of Health, is focussing on malaria preparedness and outbreak control in the northern Philippines. Interventions will target a population of 200 000, for the possibility of 80 000 cases of malaria (estimates based on previous experiences).

Additional WHO activities are in the area of emergency response coordination and support to health authorities. These include: provision of medicines and supplies; water purification; technical assistance (forensic pathology, health services management, environmental health, and psychosocial care), health promotion activities and rapid response logistics.

In order to meet the needs of the affected population, WHO is encouraging the international community to unite in its response. WHO urges donors to fund health-related projects in the UN Flash Appeal (totalling US$ 545,635, of which US$ 365,000 are for projects to be implemented by WHO, national health authorities, and other humanitarian health actors). Additional projects to secure the basic health needs of children and women in typhoon-affected areas are being carried out by UNICEF, national authorities and NGOs.

"We also encourage donors to provide resources for the other components of the Flash Appeal—covering food for recovery, water and sanitation, non-food items, education, agriculture and livelihoods, and disaster preparedness—as these areas contribute to the immediate and long-term improved health status of the population," said Dr David Nabarro, Representative of the WHO Director-General for Health Action in Crises.

For more information contact:

Jean-Marc Olivé
WHO Country Representative
Telephone: +632 338 7479
Fax: +632 731 3914

Mr Peter Cordingley
World Health Organization, Western Pacific Regional Office
Manila, Philippines
Telephone: +632 528 9991

Mr Iain Simpson
Telephone: +41 22 791 3215
Mobile phone: +41 79 475 5534