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International Agencies Rally to Help Explosion Victims in N. Korea - 2004-05-02


The United Nations and international aid agencies are stepping up efforts to meet the long-term health needs of hundreds of victims, many of them children, injured by the giant train explosion in Ryongchon, North Korea more than a week ago.

Aid agencies are providing medical assistance and food to hospitals in the Ryongchon area. The World Health Organization says the overall medical treatment being provided is reasonable and most of the emergency needs are being met. But the World Health Organization reports that medical supplies such as eye treatments, topical creams, compresses for burns, and certain antibiotics remain in short supply.

WHO spokeswoman Christine McNab says a team of doctors has visited four hospitals in the area to assess the needs. She says the doctors also are assisting with disease surveillance in Ryongchon.

"We feel that many of the 370 people, about two-thirds of those children, injured in the disaster will have suffered and will continue to suffer from some fairly serious injuries including to the eyes which will most probably result in blindness in one or both eyes, deafness, serious head injuries, which will result in brain damage and other long-term disabilities," explained Ms. McNab.

Ms. McNab says it is important to provide short-term emergency care to these people now. But then, she says, long-term rehabilitative services will be needed. This will include re-constructive surgery and trauma counseling.

The WHO spokeswoman says the local medical staff has done a good job in treating the injured. But, she notes the disaster has highlighted the weakness and vulnerability of the North Korean health care system and the lack of housing in Ryongchong following the explosion.

The town hospital was also badly damaged. Ms. McNab says the Swiss government and a Swiss private aid agency have pledged funds to rebuild the hospital. She says the World Health Organization will provide medical equipment to the new facility.

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