Note for the Press WHO/X

14 February 2001






The combination of cold, desert-climate nights and lack of shelter is making respiratory infections one of the most acute dangers India’s earthquake survivors are facing, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned today.


“Respiratory infections are a major consequence of the destruction of much of the infrastructure, health and otherwise, which has forced people to sleep in the open, despite low night-time temperatures,” said Dr Eigil Sorensen, WHO's South East Asia Regional Advisor for the Emergency and Humanitarian Action (EHA) programme.


Current estimates place more than 1 million people in Gujarat state without shelter. “The risk of acute respiratory infections and death is related to overcrowding, pollution, displacement of people, disruption of health services and exposure to cold in desert climate (people sleeping outdoors). The risk maximal in children below 5 and people over the age of 60,” said Sorensen.


WHO experts in the earthquake-hit area, are closely working with the Indian Ministry of Health and other partners to try to prevent these infections from occurring. Suggested prevention measures include measles immunization and Vitamin A supplementation, specially to children under 5.  Children and old people specially must be well clad and blankets should be provided to protect them from exposure to cold. 


Health workers and doctors should look for pneumonia and treat it promptly.  This could be done by checking for signs of rapid breathing, chest in-drawing in young children and pain in chest or difficult breathing in adults.  Presence of any one of the above signs with cough or difficult breathing need to be treated with a course of appropriate antibiotics.  Anyone who has cough of more than three weeks should be tested for TB by sputum examination.  Patients of TB must be treated with DOTS (directly observed treatment, short course).


WHO has already provided medicines and emergency health kits worth US$450,000. In its efforts to help maintain clean water supplies, WHO is procuring over 1000 chloroscopes at the request of the local health authorities to enable checking of chlorine content in water at the end point.


However, imminent danger of respiratory and other infections will require further funding.  WHO has updated its appeal to include the following necessities :


·        $ 526,820 for Health Sector Coordination

·        $ 232,000 for Surveillance and Water quality control

·        $5,065,000 for Restoration and Rehabilitation of the Health Services in earthquake affected areas

·        $ 369,500 for Disease surveillance and early warning of epidemics


Other WHO specialists supporting the Government of India in the region, are active in disease surveillance and early warning of epidemics and water and sanitation work. The WHO team includes  Dr Luis Jorge Perez, Regional Advisor Emergency Health Preparedness from WHO’s Americas Region (PAHO/AMRO), who has recently provided technical advice to the El Salvador earthquake, as well as WHO emergency experts from Indonesia and Nepal who are assisting in setting up rapid response networks.