Safe Water, Medicines, Insecticides Greatest Needs After Mitch

Washington, Nov. 6, 1998-- Safe water, specific medicines, insecticides and waste disposal are the highest priority needs in the Central American countries affected by Hurricane Mitch, say Pan American Health Organization disaster experts.

Contrary to popular belief, epidemics and plagues don't usually follow natural disasters, according to experts at PAHO, which is working with the health sector in Honduras, Nicaragua, and other Central American countries to reduce the risk of outbreaks that could arise as a result of Mitch.

Dr. Hugo Prado, of PAHO's Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Program, says "after a disaster such as Hurricane Mitch, outbreaks and epidemics are not automatic. Public health problems are a consequence of other issues, such as the destruction or disruption of water supplies."

PAHO is coordinating requests from countries affected by the disaster. Honduras and Nicaragua have reported that they need specific medicines, insecticides and equipment for mosquito control, waste disposal systems, health education and communication assistance, hospital equipment, and materials for water purification including granular hypochloride, 5-gallon plastic water jugs, and equipment to measure residual chlorine. Dr. Prado emphasized that PAHO does not support indiscriminate sending of medicines, which can clog the supply delivery system.

Without improvements in sanitary conditions, health problems most likely to initially occur are diarrheal diseases, as a consequence of the use of unsafe water, Dr. Prado emphasized. Later on, the confinement of a large number of people in crowded shelters or in the homes of family and friends can generate problems such as diarrheal diseases because of unsafe water or food, as well as skin rashes, conjunctivitis, and other problems related to crowding. Leptospirosis, a disease transmitted by the urine or feces of rodents, can be a problem in flooded areas as well, he said. A health threat that c

Contact: Daniel Epstein
Pan American Health Organization

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