GENEVA -- In response to last weeks devastating tsunami, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it needs $60 million to address urgent public health needs, most importantly in preventing outbreaks of water-borne and other infectious diseases. The WHO appeal forms part of the United Nations emergency flash appeal for victims of the tsunami.
If basic needs, particularly access to safe drinking water, are not urgently restored to all populations by the end of this week, WHO fears that outbreaks of infectious disease could result in a similar number of fatalities as occurred due to the direct impact of the tsunami.
WHO has already sent millions of water purification tablets to Southeast Asia and mobilized health emergency kits containing basic medical supplies for more than two million people for a period of three months, as well as surgical equipment for more than 10,000 operations and emergency treatment of diarrheal diseases (such as cholera and dysentery) for more than 15,000 people. While this aid is now reaching many locations, access to safe drinking water remains inadequate, particularly in Aceh, Indonesia, and the eastern coast of Sri Lanka.
The WHO director-general, Dr Lee Jong-Wook, who is currently in Jakarta, Indonesia, said: We are extremely concerned about the ongoing lack of access to basic needs. Five million people have been severely affected by the tsunamis. We now estimate that as many as 150,000 people are at extreme risk, if a major disease outbreak in the affected areas occurs. The most urgent need now is to make sure everyone has access to safe drinking water.
While no disease outbreaks have been reported so far, WHO confirms an increase in isolated cases of diarrheal diseases in camps for displaced people. The situation remains much less clear in Aceh and Sumatra, where damage to infrastructure limits access and a full assessment of the extent of the humanitarian needs is still ongoing.
As the leading public health agency, WHO is providing guidance to national authorities, other UN organizations and NGOs to ensure the public health needs of the displaced populations can be met. WHO has published a public health emergency strategy focusing on five key objectives to ensure the rapid recovery and rehabilitation of public health services:
Coordination of health relief: continue to coordinate the public health relief effort with national authorities, local communities, other UN organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and donors to ensure the right aid reaches the right people at the right time.
Access to essential healthcare: ensuring adequate supplies of basic medical care through key hospitals (including temporary field hospitals) and health centres.
Disease surveillance and response: immediate strengthening of surveillance to rapidly detect and respond to potential outbreaks.
Technical support: provide guidance on critical public health issues to public health authorities, and strengthening of routine health services.
Strengthening of medical supply chain: ensure medical supply chain (eg cold chain, reactivation of previously available health services) is restored, including the replacement of lost assets, infrastructure and supplies.
To fully implement the key activities of the public health strategy, a minimum of $60 million is urgently required. With donor response generous throughout the world, the critical task now will be to rapidly turn pledges into resources. An estimated three to five million people are currently displaced, and may be without access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter, food and basic medical supplies.