GENEVA (30 December 2003) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes the urgent health needs of the tens of thousands of people affected by the recent earthquake in Bam, Iran. The health risks of exposure to cold night temperatures, inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, and insufficient care for people's injuries are amongst the many serious health concerns.
To date, at least 20,000 people have been killed as a result of the Bam earthquake. Approximately 50,000 are injured, and 11,000 of these people have been admitted to hospitals. In total, the earthquake destroyed the homes of an estimated 70,000 people.
The physical structures that house the main hospital in Bam, and several urban health clinics, have also collapsed. Many medical staff and other health workers have been injured or killed. Although some health services are being provided in makeshift hospitals, the threadbare living conditions of survivors is a serious cause for concern and demands immediate attention.
"The profound tragedy of thousands of people killed has caused emotional and psychological trauma for the tens of thousands of people who have survived. It is now imperative to ensure their mental and physical well-being to the fullest extent possible during this fragile period", said LEE Jong-wook, the Director-General of WHO.
Without coordinated and urgent assistance, the risk now is that the extremely difficult living conditions for survivors will lead to further sickness and death. The Minister of Health, who is coordinating the overall health aspects of the response, has specified there are many health needs, but that at this stage there is no further need for field hospitals, as most of the seriously wounded have been airlifted to health facilities in other cities.
WHO also notes that fears of epidemic outbreaks from the dead bodies, one of the most common myths associated with disasters, are unfounded.
To improve the health conditions of the earthquake survivors, WHO is now appealing for US$ 3.5 million for use by the Iranian authorities to purchase supplies, rehabilitate health facilities and provide vital public and community health services. Urgent needs include:
* Re-establishing health services including psychological counselling and support
* Instigating rapid and wide coverage systems for disease surveillance, analysis and response
* Ensuring that all affected people have adequate shelter to limit the incidence of respiratory infections. The risk of such infections, which can be fatal particularly for young children and elderly people, is high now as people are sleeping in the open in low night-time temperatures
* Enabling access to safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene to avoid increases in water-borne diseases and prevent epidemics
* Providing care and follow-up for trauma cases and for infections resulting from injuries, compound fractures and the many emergency amputations undertaken after the earthquake
Since the earthquake on 26 December, WHO has set up a team which is working with the Iranian Ministry of Health, local officials and community groups in the affected area. Team members include experts in emergency health care, epidemiology of diseases, information collection and analysis, environmental health, and health service planning. WHO experts are also ready to set up emergency teams to respond to disease outbreaks and contain epidemics.
To make sure that the assistance now reaching Iran is well used, national authorities are establishing coordination mechanisms. WHO is supporting the Iranian health authorities to coordinate assistance for health--helping to circulate information among partners, encouraging the discussion of needs and lines of action, and helping those concerned to reach a consensus on how to get the best response to the health risks faced by all those who are affected. By avoiding duplication and covering all the gaps, authorities will be able to ensure the best possible response to the crisis.
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