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Disease outbreak prevention crucial in China earthquake aftermath

Preventing communicable disease outbreaks is the key public health issue now facing the People's Republic of China in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck the country's south-western region on 12 May.

"The main needs now are water, sanitation and food. Ensuring supply of food and safe drinking water and trying to restore good sanitation are critical because these are the basic transmission routes for communicable diseases," said WHO's Representative to China, Dr Hans Troedsson.

WHO is working closely with China's Ministry of Health to offer aid, supplies and guidance. WHO is being updated continually on the latest health issues in the wake of the 8.0 magnitude earthquake.

As of 17 May, the official death toll has exceeded 28 800. An additional 198 347 people have been injured. The Chinese government expects the death toll to cross 50 000. More than 15 million houses have collapsed in Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Yunnan and Hubei provinces. The government estimates that 5.7 million people have been evacuated.

Action is needed to prevent the risk of disease outbreaks in quake-affected areas, where absence of safe drinking water and proper waste disposal, and cramped living conditions in temporary shelters can be conducive to outbreaks. Damaged roads and health facilities can be major obstacles to providing appropriate health care.

Dr Troedsson said the Chinese government's response to the immense health and logistics challenges, particularly in the epicenter area in Beichuan County, seems to have been appropriate.

Chinese authorities have outlined an epidemic control and response plan, which includes distribution of safe water and food, robust epidemic monitoring and control of any identified outbreaks. Thousands of health staff, including epidemic surveillance and control officers, have been sent to affected areas. Sichuan health authorities have sent around 300 disease prevention and control teams and some 200 health inspection and enforcement teams.

WHO has offered material and technical support to Chinese authorities to help in relief efforts if and when requested. Already, WHO has provided technical materials on health emergency management and communicable disease control in natural disasters to China's Center for Disease Control. WHO has also requested from Chinese health authorities a list of emergency health supplies and equipment needed to support resource mobilization activities.

For further information contact:

Paul Garwood
Communications Officer
Health Action in Crises
WHO, Geneva
Mobile: +41 794 75 55 46
E-mail: garwoodp@who.int

Peter Cordingley
Communications Officer
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
Manila, Philippines
Telephone: +63 2 710 2578
Mobile: +63 917 844 3688
E-mail: cordingleyp@wpro.who.int

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