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WHO: Tsunami Health Risks Remain

  • Anjana Pasricha

The World Health Organization says of Asian countries affected by the tsunami Indonesia is the most vulnerable to disease epidemics. But the agency says there have been no disaster-related disease outbreaks.

The World Health Organization paints a grim picture for Indonesia's remote Aceh Province - the region worst affected by the December 26 tsunami disaster.

WHO South East Asia Coordinator in New Delhi Jay Narain outlined the situation to reporters.

"So there is no health system currently functioning. We have to have these emergency services available there," he said. "Many of the health care workers either they are injured, or they are displaced or some of them have died. Reinforcement from the rest of the country is very, very important."

The WHO says after Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives will need the most help of the 12 impacted Indian Ocean nations.

Sri Lanka has asked for assistance to rebuild 30 health facilities, which were destroyed, at an estimated cost of $500 million.

The U.N. health agency says the good news is India has effectively mobilized its own resources to deal with medical needs, while Thailand is also coping well because it suffered devastation in a relatively smaller area.

WHO officials happily note there have been no large outbreaks of communicable diseases since the tsunami struck, although sporadic cases of diarrhea and measles have been reported.

But they warn the affected countries need stay on alert. Besides monitoring waterborne diseases, the WHO is asking health workers to watch out for outbreaks of dengue fever and malaria in areas where there is stagnant water.

The WHO says mental health issues pose a long-term risk. It says survivors of the tsunami are simultaneously in need of psychological and social support.

Vijay Chandra, Regional Adviser at the WHO, says a massive effort is needed to help people cope.

"We are talking about a huge problem," he stressed. "Every survivor, whether they be injured or not, is in some way psychologically affected. There is a huge increase in anxiety, there is a huge increase in sadness, there is a huge increase in grief reactions, now these have to be dealt with by psychological counseling."

Sri Lanka is getting WHO help to train local community residents to reach out to help people cope with their trauma.