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Agencies gear up for possible water-borne diseases

A Bangkok resident watches as flood waters rise around him. 13 October 2011
A Bangkok resident watches as flood waters rise around him. 13 October 2011 (Shermaine Ho/IRIN)

Aid workers in Thailand warn of possible water-borne disease outbreaks following weeks of heavy flooding.

“Water-borne disease is always a risk in a massive flood," Matthew Cochrane, regional communications and advocacy manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told IRIN on 13 October in Bangkok. "The situation needs to be constantly monitored."

While there have been no reported outbreaks to date, the authorities and aid workers are not taking any chances.

The government has mobilized all available resources including the military, police and emergency services, while a medical team of doctors and sanitation experts from Medécins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been sent to the worst-hit provinces - Ayutthaya, Phitsanulok and Sukhothai - to conduct an assessment of the flood’s impact on sanitation facilities and people’s health.

“Until now, we have not identified the need to intervene. Local governments can give adequate response,” said Veronique Terrasse, MSF’s Asia regional communication officer.

Diarrhoea, dengue, leptospirosis, typhoid, malaria and skin infections are the most common water-borne diseases in flood-ravaged areas where people have poor access to clean water, food and sanitation, said Seeviga Saegtharatip, a communicable diseases specialist at the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health.

“Rescue teams have been sent to all flood-hit provinces to provide victims with basic medicines, trash bags and chlorine for purifying water," Saegtharatip said. "Mobile clinics have also been set up to provide free medical services."

Over 118,000 family kits have been distributed, along with 1.3 million bottles of drinking water by the Thai Red Cross.


Over two million affected

As of 13 October, the death toll has risen to 283 in Thailand and more than 2.3 million people have been affected in the northern, eastern and central part of the country, the country’s Disaster Management Centre reported, with flood warnings now in place in 61 of the country’s 77 provinces.

Among the worst-off is the central province of Ayutthaya, which is also home to a World Heritage site.

Meanwhile, Bangkok, home to more than 15 million, is bracing for the worst, with flood warnings now issued to 27 vulnerable communities around the Chao Phraya river which runs through the city.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has set up 191 shelters to prepare for evacuation, while residents remain busy sandbagging their homes and stocking up on essential supplies such as water and food, with additional rains predicted for the end of the week and high tides expected over the weekend.

“This is Thailand’s worst flood in decades. The prolonged disaster also means increasing health risk,” said IFRC’s Cochrane, adding that its seriousness underscores the need to improve infrastructure, warning systems and legislation. “Disaster preparedness can’t be removed from development."

To date, there has been no official request from the Thai government for international assistance, but the World Health Organization has offered medical kits and supplies (stocked in Bangkok) which will be made available on demand. At the same time, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) remains in close contact with the Ministry of Health to offer support on water, sanitation and hygiene.


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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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