Tsunami 2004 Health Impact

tsunami dead bodiesTtsunamis like the Asian tsunami 2004 can have serious public health consequences. There are few resources in the tsunami health impacts that describe the characteristics and epidemiology of tsunami-related disasters, as a whole. This section covers information available on public health issues and how they could be managed.

When the Asian tsunami struck on 26 December 2004, health authorities braced for an onslaught of waterborne illnesses including malaria and cholera, which often follow such disasters. But saltwater flooded the freshwater breeding grounds of the mosquitoes that spread malaria, and relief agencies quickly distributed bottled water, thwarting a cholera epidemic. Instead, a type of aspiration pneumonia named “tsunami lung” emerged and afflicted some survivors. Tsunami lung occurs when people being swept by tsunami waves inhale salt-water contaminated with mud and bacteria. The resulting pneumonia-like infections normally are treated with antibiotics. more

The evaluations following the Tsunami that affected 12 countries (December 2004) and the earthquakes in Bam, Iran (2003), and in Pakistan (2005) offered valuable lessons for public health preparedness against all types of risks (natural, complex, or technological) in all countries . The lessons learned, needs assessments, effectiveness of external life-saving assistance, disease surveillance and control, as well as donations management, were reviewed. Although hundreds of surveys or studies were conducted, the needs assessments were partial and uncoordinated. The findings often were not shared by individual agencies. The evaluations in each of the three disasters point to some additional issues: 1. Foreign mobile hospitals rarely arrived in time for immediate trauma care. Existing international guidelines for the use of field hospitals often were ignored and must be updated and promoted. Local and neighboring facilities are best at providing immediate, life-saving care; 2. Occassionally, the risk of epidemics was grossly overestimated by the agencies and the mass media. Surveillance and improved routine control programs work without resorting to costly, improvised immunization campaigns of doubtless value. Improving or re-establishing water and sanitation must be the first priority; 3. Health donations were not always appropriate, nor did they follow the World Health Organization guidelines. The costly destruction of inappropriate donations was a recurrent problem; and 4. Medical volunteers from within the affected country were abounding, but did not benefit from the external logistical and material support. The international community should provide logistical and material support before sending expatriate teams that are unfamiliar with the area and its alth problems. Investing in the preparedness of the national health services and communities should become a priority for disaster-prone countries and those assisting them in their development.

Prehosp Disaster Med. 2007 Jan-Feb;22(1):15-21. Health lessons learned from the recent earthquakes and Tsunami in Asia. de Ville de Goyet C.
Source: cdevill@attglobal.net