WHO sets up disease surveillance system in Myanmar

June 4th, 2008 - 4:07 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 4 (IANS) A system for early detection and reporting of potential disease outbreaks in Myanmar’s cyclone affected areas has been put into place by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners. The Early Warning Reporting System (EWARS) has been established to support the country’s health ministry in providing quick and accurate information on diseases. The system collects information from health sector partners, verifying rumours of outbreaks as well as through formal reporting methods, said a statement issued here Wednesday by the global health body.

“We are working with the government of Myanmar to further strengthen the existing health system, including disease surveillance. WHO is advocating a community-based approach and the use of appropriate technologies to help the survivors,” said Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO regional director for Southeast Asia.

Cyclone Nargis slammed into the country’s Irrawaddy delta May 3. The official death toll from the cyclone is 35,000 but the UN has said about two million people have been severely affected.

The warning system is particularly significant as water-borne and vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue could pose a health challenge during the monsoons, the statement said.

The intrusion of salty water inland makes ideal breeding sites for Anopheles Sundaicus, the malaria vectors in the coastal areas, and early rains favour breeding of other malaria vectors.

“Displaced populations without the support of normal health services are more susceptible to such diseases,” the statement said.

Verifying information at an early stage allows prompt containment of diseases and prevents outbreaks, it added.

“We are training international and national medical teams on malaria and dengue control. Insecticide-treated bednets, 120,000 cases of malaria drugs, fogging machines, 2,000 litres of insecticides and five tonnes of larvicides have been supplied by WHO and health partners,” said Poonam Singh, WHO deputy regional director (Southeast Asia).

“Access to clean water and sanitation is key to improving the health situation on the ground,” she added.

WHO, in collaboration with the health ministry, has conducted briefings and induction for medical teams from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries that have already arrived in Myanmar.

Medical teams from several countries are expected to arrive in Myanmar in the next three to six months.

WHO and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are training volunteers deployed in the affected areas. Over 350 participants have been trained for malaria and dengue prevention and control.

“WHO is working with Myanmar’s health ministry to strengthen Rapid Response Team capacities at the township level. The capacity of the central laboratory in Yangon is being strengthened. Kits for specimen collection have been ordered and will be distributed in each township,” the statement said.

WHO is also collaborating in training all doctors for delivery of basic mental health services. Standards set by WHO for mental health and psychosocial support in disasters are being used to train master trainers who will in turn train community workers.

WHO and its partners have supplied more than 650 tonnes of medical supplies to the cyclone affected people so far.

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