Disease, Malnutrition Risks Grow in Haiti

Typhoid, diarrheal diseases, and malnutrition are among the health risks likely to emerge as displaced Haitians remain without clean water or sanitation and masses resettle, an official with the Pan American Health Organization said Thursday.

PAHO, the regional office of the World Health Organization, has been monitoring for but has not yet seen any major outbreaks of infectious disease in the aftermath of the earthquake.

"Right now we're totally focused on finding and treating and supporting the survivors there on the ground, but in the weeks and months to come, we will need to be very proactive on emerging risks," Dr. Jon Andrus, PAHO's deputy director, said.

Andrus said PAHO had received reports that more than 300,000 people are living in 280 "spontaneous settlements," mainly in parks and open spaces. Haitian authorities estimate that at least one million people have been left homeless in the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, he said.

A central warehouse managed by PAHO has been disbursing medicines and medical supplies to 40 agencies, and flights en route to Haiti are carrying medicines and supplies that can treat 165,000 people for one month, plus drugs and equipment to treat 1,000 people with trauma injuries, he said.

"Progress is being made," he said. "Is it fast enough for us? Absolutely not, but despite enormous challenges, we are definitely encouraged by the progress."

Typhoid, a water-borne disease, and diarrheal diseases are of concern in the weeks to come given the extent of damage to water systems, Andrus said. Rabies is endemic in the region.

While measles is not currently circulating in Haiti, following a major vaccination campaign a year ago, "the risk of importation is there," he said. PAHO has said it is also concerned about the spread of respiratory infections.

PAHO is asking medical teams coming from other countries to make sure they are updated on vaccinations so as not to expose a vulnerable population to new viruses, he said.

Malnutrition is a worry for young children, pregnant and lactating women, and older people, he said. He said PAHO is emphasizing breast feeding for mothers of newborns, because infant formula could become contaminated when mixed with local water.

SOURCE LINK: Wall Street Journal