Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Experts fear wasting relief supplies to aid tsunami victims

Public health experts are closely watching the outpouring of emergency relief supplies to ward off disease outbreak in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster, the Associated Press (AP) reported last week. Experts fear that the rush of supplies to victims might be a waste.

While food and clothing donations pile up, experts are wary of spending too much time with vaccination clinics, for what they say is an overestimate regarding the dangers of diseases like malaria.

"Not uncommonly, do-good countries will send in all kinds of supplies that have no value, like tons and tons of clothing, food that people can't eat because it's not their custom, even hospital-style equipment that they can't possibly use," Philip Brachman, MD, at Emory University, in Atlanta told the AP.

Last weekend's earthquake and tsunami killed more than an estimated 110,000 people and forced up to 5 million from their homes. So far the World Health Organization hasn't detected any disease outbreaks. But global relief efforts anticipate outbreaks soon.

The worst immediate threats probably stem from a range of diarrheal diseases like cholera and dysentery, especially where pure water fails to reach survivors quickly, specialists say. Other big worries include respiratory diseases, like measles and pneumonia, within about a week of the disaster. In a month or so, outbreaks are likely from food- or water-carried ailments, like salmonella and hepatitis.

The experts say clean water-along with water-purifying tablets and equipment-are urgent priorities.

Several health specialists also appealed for more attention to mental health counseling, which tends to be overlooked in undeveloped areas.


(from Emergency Management Alert, Jan. 4, 2005)

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