WHO Fears Tsunami Psychological Damage

Fearful the southern Asian tsunami (search) may leave millions traumatized, especially children, European health ministers urged governments to be mindful of the psychological scars of the disaster.

Meeting in Helsinki on Friday, representatives of the European Union and the World Health Organization (search) pledged more aid for the region, but said the task of helping the injured and traumatized was "extremely demanding."

"The trauma for so many millions of children is a first. After World War II there has not been such a trauma," Marc Danzon, European regional director of the U.N. health body, said of the tsunamis that killed more than 157,000 people.

"We are confronted by something that is extremely demanding, and I'm not sure that at this moment we are equipped to face the problem," he told the AP. "But we will do our best."

The disaster also subjected people worldwide to horrific photos and TV images of destruction, something never seen before on such a scale, Danzon said.

"We are witnessing for the first time a globalization of such images and I am sure that they will mark the mentality of people everywhere," he said.

The three-day ministerial conference that ends Saturday released a 12-page mental health plan of action that also urges ensuring "professional help and assurances" for people in crises, including natural disasters.

The document, signed Friday by 52 countries, said that almost 20 percent of the disease burden in Europe is caused by mental disorders, and not enough attention is paid to the mental state of those who survive crises or natural disasters.

"We get fixed on how many are missing, or wounded or injured, but of course those who experience this shock — children not the least — coming back to their surroundings ... some 20 percent of them will experience post-traumatic stress syndrome (search) and stress disorders," said Gudjon Magnusson, a WHO spokesman.

Officials from the Asian disaster areas reported that up to three-quarters of local health personnel could not work because of depression.

"Hospitals close to disaster had a problem with staff. Some of them were dead or wounded but a majority of the 75 percent of staff had mental difficulty to come back to work because of depression," Danzon said.

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said the European Union was sending more teams to the region, but conceded that a greater global aid effort was needed.