The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging all citizens, organizations and governments wishing to help the tsunami victims in southern and Southeast Asia to wait for an assessment of what's needed before sending anything.
"It is better to wait for the rapid-needs assessment," said Dr. Dana Van Alphen, an emergency preparedness advisor in PAHO's Office of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief. PAHO serves as the regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
"There is a need for shelter, food and water in all of the affected countries," said the PAHO official. But she cautioned that it's best to wait for an assessment and "it will take a few days to get everything under control." She urged sending cash rather than supplies, which often hamper rather than help relief efforts.
Van Alphen also stressed that, contrary to reports, dead bodies do not lead to outbreaks of diseases. She said it is those who are alive that have to be the center of attention, concern and help.
This was also reiterated by WHO in its latest report on the Southeast Asian tragedy, in which it said that "dead bodies do not pose any health threat, but they feed fears and can divert precious attention and resources from effective relief efforts." For that reason, the WHO report added, "technical guidance and rational decisions based on sound scientific evidence are another priority need for the health of all the affected and surrounding populations."
United Nations and aid agencies around the world have rushed staff, equipment and money to southern and Southeast Asia in what could become one of the biggest relief efforts in history.
Van Alphen also said that "water contamination is a problem." According to WHO, Southeast Asia is endemic for malaria and dengue fever. Flooding and stagnant water create favorable conditions for the mosquito vector. Overcrowding facilitates transmission of communicable diseases.
It also warned that poor quality and quantity of water and insufficient sanitation, overcrowding and poor hygiene in temporary camps will raise the risk for outbreaks of diarrheal diseases. Therefore, thorough and sustained water purification is an absolute priority.
The Pan American Health and Education Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, is collaborating in the historic relief efforts in Asia, where tsunamis rocked 11 nations, the death toll continues to soar, health facilities have been destroyed and millions of people are at risk of communicable diseases.
Please consider making a gift to the Asia Tsunami Relief Fund where your help is most urgently needed. To make a gift, please choose one of the following options:
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of people of the Americas.
PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.