MAPUTO, March 24 (Reuters) - Mozambique could take 20 years to restore its health system to the standard reached before last month's devastating floods, a World Health Organisation worker said on Friday.
This was a cause of major concern as the health system before the floods was poor anyway, WHO representative Carlos Tiny said.
"This was a weak health system before the crisis and it has been severely hit," he told Reuters in an interview.
Tiny said that precious medical supplies and equipment had been destroyed in the floods, which claimed at least 640 lives and displaced up to half a million more.
Fears of cholera and malaria epidemics in the 121 camps for displaced people were straining the creaking health system, which before the floods provided treatment to only half of the country's 17 million citizens.
Tiny said the health department received more than half of its funding from international donors, but that this would not be enough to repair the damage caused by Mozambique's worst natural disaster.
"If the international community keeps its support at levels of 60 percent it could take 15 to 20 years to bring the health sector back to pre-February levels," he said.
"If there is a really firm resolution to help, it could take five years to bring it back to where it was."
Before the floods, each doctor in Mozambique was responsible for 40,000 people. A person had to, on average, walk 40 km (25 miles) to get to a clinic.
So far, a cholera epidemic in the camps has been prevented due to a strong emphasis on hygiene. However, in the capital Maputo reported cases more than doubled each week. Seven people had died in the past week.
"I believe cholera in these camps would be like throwing a match onto petrol-soaked dry leaves," Tiny said.
Reported malaria cases have surged to 200,000 in the three southern and central provinces worst hit by the floods, compared to 180,000 in the same period last year.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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