$543,000 needed to support immediate health needs in Guyana

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has issued an urgent appeal for $543,000 to support immediate health needs in Guyana, where heavy rainfall has flooded densely populated areas, leaving thousands without shelter, food or water.

Funds are needed to prevent communicable diseases, set up emergency centers, provide drinking water and sanitation, provide logistic support and coordination, and conduct education and information activities on disease prevention and stress management, the Organization's appeal said. The amount is based on a detailed needs assessment.

"Most health centers remain closed because they are flooded and equipment and drug supplies have possibly been damaged," PAHO's emergency appeal noted. "The population in the flood-affected communities requires shelter, food and water. At present, only 10 percent of the population estimated to receive food is actually receiving it and only 20 percent of those who need water are receiving it," largely due to lack of access to affected areas.

"Public health programs in the area have been interrupted and there is a great demand for post emergency interventions due to the preexisting vulnerability of the population to dengue, malaria and other vector-borne diseases."

The 27 inches of rain that fell in January caused considerable flooding in the most densely populated areas of Guyana, with more than 70,000 persons in the Georgetown area and at least 100,000 in coastal regions seriously affected by the floods. Both water treatment plants on the East Coast (Mon Repos and Betterhope) were knocked out of service, and the Guyana water utility placed 57 400-gallon water tanks along east-west roads, which are being filled by tanker trucks, PAHO's appeal noted. However, delivery trucks are in short supply, and although water is being chlorinated, the dosage is very low and the stock of chlorine gas is nearly depleted. Bottled water has also been distributed.

The Minister of Health has formed a special Task Force on Health, with PAHO as a key international partner, that has sent mobile teams to affected communities to provide medical services, water, bleach, disinfectant and information to the hardest-hit areas. The PAHO Disaster Response Team was strengthened with additional environmental staff from neighboring countries. Other agencies active in relief efforts include the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the International Red Cross, and the Disaster Assessment and Response Team of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assessment.

The disposal of human waste is another very serious problem in affected areas, especially along the east coast in Demerara, the PAHO document noted. So far, in the 80 assessed areas, 100 percent of the pit latrines, septic tanks or drains are flooded. Sewage is mixed with accumulated water, increasing the risk that water-related disease would become epidemic. Many health facilities are not functional and pit latrines and septic tanks are spilling their contents into the flood water. People now commonly use buckets and empty the contents into the water.

The Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF), a supporting foundation of the Pan American Health Organization, has set up a special Guyana Fund to support recovery efforts in Guyana, and is asking for donations to buy needed equipment and medicines. You can make your donation online if you wish.

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