U.S. Water News Online
JAKARTA -- Rushing water purification tablets to survivors
and building rudimentary toilets remain the focus of efforts to fend
off deadly disease outbreaks in communities devastated by the Asian
earthquake and tsunami, health officials said.
Sporadic cases of diarrhea have been reported in tsunami zones in
India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, but in most cases the cause is not
cholera or other bugs that could spark an epidemic. Although there
are gaps in surveillance, health officials say they are confident
they have an accurate picture and that deadly outbreaks have not yet
The World Health Organization warns that hygiene in many of the
hundreds of refugee camps that have sprung up around the region is
the biggest disease concern. The U.N. health agency has predicted
that the 150,000 death toll from the disaster could double if urgent
measures aren't taken to prevent outbreaks.
"It's critical over the next few weeks, when we've got to be extra
vigilant and extra cautious," said Roy Wadia, WHO spokesman in Sri
Tightening up disease detection and bolstering the health care
structure are also major priorities so that illnesses can be caught
and treated early to minimize the risk of outbreaks.
An estimated 3 million to 5 million people are living in refugee
camps across the tsunami-stricken area.
In Sri Lanka, aid workers are digging ditches at camps to create
latrines, but because the groundwater is high, that is proving quite
challenging in some areas, Wadia said.
Measles vaccination campaigns are under way across the region and
mosquito nets are being distributed to minimize the risk of malaria
and dengue fever that could break out from mosquitoes breeding in
pools of stagnant flood waters that have formed amid the rubble.
Laboratory equipment is being shipped to the hardest hit areas to
analyze samples so that disease outbreaks can be confirmed or
In most places, hospitals are coping well with the patient load,
World Health Organization officials across the affected area said. In
nearly all the communities hit by the disaster, the acute injuries
have been dealt with and people have either died or are on the mend.
Experts say they don't believe there are large numbers of people
with festering wounds in need of urgent medical care.
"In the hospitals (in India), the reports we are getting are that
there is nothing very serious there," said Dr. Poonam Singh, deputy
regional director for Southeast Asia at the World Health
However, in Banda Aceh, at the northwest tip of the Indonesian
island of Sumatra -- the area hardest hit by the disaster --
hospitals are now admitting injured survivors whose wounds have
become dangerously infected.
Earlier in the disaster, patients were turning up at hospitals in
the town with minor cuts and bruises. But rescue workers continue to
find injured survivors in remote areas and in the 10 days since they
got their cuts, their conditions have worsened. The complications
have led in some cases to septicemia, or life-threatening blood
poisoning, and to gangrene, forcing doctors to amputate limbs.
A few cases of tetanus have surfaced in Banda Aceh, but those
patients can be promptly cared for, said Dr. Ron Waldman, a prominent
emergency response and infectious disease expert coordinating the
WHO's efforts in the regional capital.
The World Health Organization says $66 million is urgently needed
to finance the health efforts.
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