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World Health Organization Director-General tours affected areas, pledges support, as Sri Lanka vows to rebuild in the wake of the tsunami

Amid the ruins of a hospital in the south-eastern Sri Lankan town of Kalmunai, the World Health Organization Director-General, Dr LEE Jong-wook, again witnessed at first hand the devastation wrought by last week’s tsunami. An operating theatre torn apart, walls of brick and stone shredded as though they were made of paper, an ambulance dangling precariously from the edge of a newly-formed crater in the hospital driveway.

As he had in Aceh, Dr Lee praised the resilience with which people have responded to the tsunami and begun to rebuild shattered lives and communities. In a meeting with President Chandrika Kumaratunga, he said that Sri Lanka is a strong nation and praised the fact that even such an unprecedented disaster has "not broken the country's back."

Dr Lee was in Sri Lanka on the second stage of a visit to two of the worst-affected countries in the disaster, arriving from Indonesia. Dr Lee was accompanied by Sri Lankan Health Minister Nirmal Siripala de Silva and the WHO Representative in Sri Lanka, Dr Kan Tun. Together, they toured Kalmunai as well as the devastated southern town of Galle.

During his visit to Sri Lanka, to help assess the damage done by last week's tsunami and the health response so far, Dr Lee visited temporary relief camps set up in schools and other buildings. He witnessed the aid efforts that are taking place, including the rehabilitation of clinics and child health services.

Together with the Minister of Health, he discussed the action that WHO and its partners have already taken, and what now needs to be done. WHO's work is particularly focused on building up an early warning system for disease surveillance, which needs to be reinforced in the weeks and months ahead.

WHO’s Sri Lanka action strategy targets approximately 1 million affected people, across 13 districts along the northern, eastern and southern coastline. WHO is working with the Ministry of Health and other agencies and has provided supplies to help reduce the risk of disease outbreaks, including water purification tablets, testing kits, and materials to eradicate mosquitoes and reducing the number of flies, especially at relief camps with poor sanitation. WHO is also working to rebuild vital health infrastructure, such as hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and medical stores that were washed away along the coast or badly damaged when the waves struck.

The President stressed the need to focus on mental health, and requested WHO’s support in helping Sri Lanka maintain a “disaster management centre” in the future. The centre will help with crisis management in situations such as outbreaks, drought, floods, and natural disasters.

WHO has allocated more than US$1 million for Sri Lanka at this time, with a far greater sum to be allocated and raised via donors in the weeks and months to come. WHO has appealed for 12.5 million dollars to help Sri Lanka recover from the devastation of the tsunami over the next six months.

WHO thanks the many governments and others who have given their support to the relief effort. WHO also thanks the many individuals who have given donations via our website.

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