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Bracing for Winter Health Crisis in Quake Region

Pakistan: UN Agency Braced for Health Crisis in Quake Region as Winter Hits

New York, Dec 12 2005 3:00PM

As the temperature drops in the mountainous regions affected by the 8 October earthquake, the head of the United Nations health agency has arrived in Pakistan, warning that the cold and the cramped living conditions is leading to an increase in the risk of hypothermia and respiratory infections.

“Last night, people living high in the mountains affected by the earthquake survived another night at well below zero in the snow,” said the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Lee Jong-wook after visiting Balakot and Muzzafarabad.

“These people face several months of freezing, winter conditions. And so the UN pledge is to help ensure they survive – with shelter, food, and basic health care,” he added

The earthquake killed 73, 000 people, seriously injured 70,000 more and left 3 million homeless. Today, hundreds of thousands still lack the shelter they need to survive the winter weather that is now closing further in each day, WHO said.

Basic health units and field hospitals have been established and 300,000 children have been vaccinated, the agency said. One hundred prefabricated basic health care units are under construction in the affected areas. A disease surveillance system is up and running.

As WHO helps the Ministry of Health carry out its “winter plan,” getting health care to people above the snow line is a major challenge.

Another difficulty is lack of funding. Of the $ 27 million it requested to fund a health response to the quake, just over half has been received and resources will run out in January.

Many survivors still need shelter from the elements, and WHO warned that the cold weather will bring more pneumonia and other deadly respiratory infections. In addition, it said the threat of water-borne disease is ever-present. Diarrhoea and dysentery pose a major risk.

Dr. Lee highlighted the need to train more women in health. “This month, 13,000 women in the earthquake area will deliver a baby. And 2,000 of those women and 1,500 of those babies will need urgent health care. But there simply are not enough women health workers to help them,” he said.


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