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WHO to Rebuild Health Facilities in Burma


The World Health Organization says it will help the government of Burma rebuild and re-equip health facilities, which had been destroyed and damaged by Cyclone Nargis, the worst storm to hit the country in 40 years. WHO says it has a clear plan as to what needs to be done following a joint comprehensive assessment of the stricken area conducted by the United Nations, World Bank, and the Association of South East Asian Nations or ASEAN. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The report assesses damage caused by Cyclone Nargis at $4 billion and estimates Burma, also known as Myanmar, will need $1 billion over the next three years to help it recover.

The cyclone, which struck in early May killed more than 84,000 people, destroyed or damaged about 800,000 homes, and flooded vast areas of agricultural land. About 75 percent of hospitals and clinics in the hard-hit Irawaddy Delta were destroyed or badly damaged.

Richard Garfield heads the World Health Organization's Department of Health and Nutrition Tracking Service. He spent six weeks in Burma and participated in the assessment mission.

He says he was surprised to see that 80 percent of people in the affected areas had had access to a health service before the Cyclone struck. He says that does not mean that conditions were good. But, he adds, they got much worse after Cyclone Nargis.

"What we discovered through this village-based assessment in interviewing 10 to 12 households in every village and the village leader was that there had been a good deal more response in the country from national assets and resources than we had known about before," said Dr. Garfield. "Not that that was an adequate response because the needs were overwhelming. But, there was a good deal more response than we had realized."

Dr. Garfield says he also was surprised to find the government had moved many physicians and nurses into the region in response to the Cyclone. He says WHO plans to rebuild the health facilities which have been damaged and destroyed and equip them.

He says the agency also will train national health workers and help them improve their communications and supply systems.

"So, that within a year, we expect them to be considerably improved to where they had been in that region prior to Nargis," said Dr. Garfield. "This is the principle of "build back better." And, now we have a basis to figure out when we have reached that level."

In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, Burma's military rulers were criticized for refusing most international help and for being slow in granting visas to United Nations and other aid workers. The generals also were criticized for not allowing foreign aid workers to move around freely in the Irawaddy Delta.

Dr. Garfield says this no longer is a problem. He says U.N. aid workers can go anywhere without government interference.

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