WHO supports Fiji's health needs caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston

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SUVA, 26 FEBRUARY 2016 - In response to Fiji's call for international assistance in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston, the World Health Organization (WHO) is providing emergency medical supplies and additional personnel to support Fiji as it organizes relief efforts for the survivors. Fiji has declared a State of Emergency.

“The World Health Organization has expressed its support to the Government of Fiji in its emergency response and humanitarian and recovery efforts following the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston. While damage and needs assessments are ongoing, we anticipate that health needs will include access to clean water, trauma care, detecting and controlling increased communicable disease transmission, food safety, continuity of chronic disease case management and psychosocial support,” said Dr Liu Yunguo, WHO Representative to Fiji. "Following serious disasters such as Cyclone Winston, disruption to water and sanitation infrastructure, compromised hygiene, and overcrowding commonly lead to increased disease transmission and outbreaks, particularly outbreaks of diarrhoeal disease," he continued.

As of 25 February, government sources have reported 42 deaths, 45 people hospitalised and at least 122 injured. As many as 54 717 people are currently in 789 evacuation shelters and key areas for action are the provision of housing, restoring health systems and providing equipment and supplies. To date, 28 health facilities have been damaged but all major hospitals remain operational. As this is a rapidly evolving situation, the figures provided remain provisional and subject to change as assessments continue. The Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) has confirmed that all sub-divisional hospitals are maintaining health services; however, the situation remains unclear in the worst affected communities with no current communications. Communications and electricity are being restored in the affected areas but information gathering remains a challenge in some areas of central and eastern divisions.

WHO advises people to observe the following health tips:

  • Make sure that drinking water is from a safe source.

  • Cook food well and dispose of food waste properly.

  • Always wash hands before eating and after using the toilet.

  • Clear stagnant water in and around the house to prevent mosquito breeding sites.

  • Do not allow children to wade in floodwaters to avoid diseases such as leptospirosis.

  • Destroy mosquito breeding sites and listen to instructions from local authorities.

  • Immediately consult a doctor if you, or any household member, shows signs or symptoms of infection.

WHO stands ready to assist the Government in providing a coordinated, effective and rapid response and will deploy emergency medical teams, if requested. The WHO Representative Office in Fiji, together with the Regional Office in Manila and headquarters are ready to assist the Ministry of Health and Medical Services with technical assistance in the areas of health cluster coordination, early warning and response to disease outbreaks, food safety, health resource assessment and mapping and as required. A joint public health risk assessment is underway. WHO in Fiji will also be providing an Interagency Emergency Health Kit (IEHK) which consists of medicines and renewable medical devices for 10 000 people for approximately three months, ten basic kits designed to support health care for 1000 people for three months, and eighteen diarrhoea kits. Since 23 February, WHO has provided 54 000 water purifying tablets to the communities where water supply was damaged by the cyclone.

Tropical Cyclone Winston is a Category 5 cyclone that hit Fiji's two largest islands on 20–21 February. It subsequently weakened to a Category 3 as it passed the southern part of Vanuatu on 23 February. It has been noted that as many as 40% of Fiji's population live within 50 kilometres of the cyclone's path.

A United Nations Department of Safety and Security severe weather warning predicted a high potential for severe devastation and that the loss of life was a real risk to the population. While the cyclone did not directly pass over Suva, the effects of the heavy rain, strong winds, flooding and power outages were experienced.

For more information, please contact:
Ms Joy Rivaca-Caminade
Technical Officer, Risk Communications
Telephone: +632 528 9986

Mr Eloi Yao
Public Information Officer
Telephone: +632 528 9992

Dr Angela Merianos
Team Coordinator
Pacific Health Security, Communicable Diseases and Climate Change
World Health Organization Division of Pacific Technical Support Suva, Fiji
Tel: +679 323 4136