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PAHO/WHO in contact with Chilean and Peruvian officials to assess health needs following major earthquake

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Santiago, Chile, 2 April 2014 (PAHO/WHO) - Following an 8.2-magnitute earthquake that struck last night near the northern coast of Chile and southern Peru, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is in contact with health officials of both countries to assess cooperation needs in the countries' health sectors.

According to Chilean authorities, at least six people died in the quake, and some 900,000 were evacuated following a tsunami alert issued by the Chilean government. In Peru, nine people suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the quake.

PAHO/WHO activated its Emergency Operations Center to support Chile and Peru and to monitor the health situation as both countries seek to return to normal.

According to available information, two hospitals (Huasco and Mejillones) and nine other health facilities in northern Chile were evacuated on a preventive basis. The Iquique Regional Hospital and the Tacna Hospital suffered moderate damage, however, the rest of the health network continues to function normally

Chile's Ministry of Health sent a team to assess damages in affected areas and ordered reinforcement of the health services, while regional health authorities activated their emergency committees.

President Michelle Bachelet declared the Arica-Parinacota and Tarapacá regions as catastrophe areas.

The earthquake struck at about 9:00 p.m. off Chile's northern coast, some 99 kilometers northeast of the city of Iquique. Tsunami alerts were issued last night for Chile, Peru and Ecuador but were lifted this morning. More than 900,000 people remained displaced in northern Chile today.

Chile's 2010 earthquake and PAHO/WHO response

In February 2010, an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck Chile, affecting six regions that are home to 80 percent of the country's population. The quake and ensuing tsunami claimed more than 500 lives, affected some 2 million people, and caused an estimated US$30 billion in damages (17 percent of Chile's GDP). In the health sector, 79 hospitals were affected (60 percent of the total), of which 54 required repairs and 17 were left unable to function. Chile's government estimated the costs of reconstructing the health sector at US$180 million.

Immediately following that quake, PAHO/WHO collaborated closely and actively with Chilean authorities and other UN agencies as part of the UN Country Team. The organization mobilized international experts in disasters, hospital infrastructure, environmental health, mental health and mass communication to bolster Chile's response. PAHO/WHO also coordinated donations of 175,000 doses of hepatitis A vaccine and 5,000 doses of pneumococcal vaccine, the purchase of a mobile vaccination center and US$1.5 million worth of biomedical equipment and electric generators, and the delivery of 30,000 guides on disease prevention in post-disaster settings.

The organization supported the development and implementation of a comprehensive environmental health plan after the earthquake, which included measures for safe drinking water, waste management, vector control, food safety, and hygiene. PAHO/WHO also helped implement a mental health action plan and helped Chile's National Disabilities Service develop a strategy and manual on post-disaster care for people with disabilities.

In addition, PAHO/WHO mobilized more than US$2.8 million from the European Commission (through ECHO), Canada (through CIDA), CERF, and the Government of Japan to support projects to reconstruct and strengthen the health network and reduce the risk of public health problems.