PAHO responds to Venezuela disaster

Pan American Health Organization
Regional Office for the Americas
World Health Organization
Washington, DC, December 20, 1999- The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is working with Venezuela to respond to the floods and mudslides that have affected thousands of Venezuelans, and has issued an initial appeal for funds to help the health sector recover.

According to PAHO Emergency Preparedness officials, PAHO's office in Caracas is being reinforced by experts in emergency and supply management, and the Organization is collaborating with the Government of Venezuela in needs assessment and coordination of health sector activities.

PAHO has already set aside $25,000 to facilitate initial health responses and has mobilized epidemiologists, health services experts, and sanitary engineers. SUMA, The humanitarian supply management system developed by PAHO has been activated at one site and is being operated by civil defense authorities.

Venezuela is now in the "acute emergency phase: search and rescue operations, relocation of displaced persons, and recovery of cadavers. During the next phase there will be a heightened health risk and health authorities in Venezuela are strengthening their epidemiological surveillance system in the affected areas to closely monitor potential outbreaks of diseases," PAHO said in its appeal. "While disasters themselves do not cause outbreaks of disease, they do contribute to deteriorating sanitary conditions that can provide an environment for outbreaks of infectious diseases or diseases already endemic in a country, " PAHO said.

PAHO has requested funds from international donors for coordination of health activities in Caracas and affected states; for provision of safe water supplies and basic sanitation to persons displaced by flooding; for a mental health program among affected populations; for management of humanitarian supplies, rehabilitation of essential health facilities; strengthening the vaccination programs for high risk workers, and purchase of essential supplies.

Vaccine experts at PAHO have issued guidelines for vaccinations in Venezuela, emphasizing immunization against measles for all people in shelters, and maintenance of routine vaccination services including replacement of vaccines used and refrigeration equipment which keeps them cold.

PAHO has also issued a new guide for humanitarian assistance in disaster situations, which emphasizes practical advice and recommendations, and provides strong evidence that humanitarian assistance can considerably benefit a country ravaged by disaster if it responds with real needs. Likewise, when responding with unsolicited donations, or when donors have a misguided view of those needs, humanitarian assistance can also become a burden.

"We would ask people to review the guidelines on disaster donations before collecting or sending any type of clothing, drinking water and similar items," said Dr. Jean-Luc Poncelet of PAHO's Emergency Preparedness Program. "Cash assistance is by far the most effective type of assistance." These guidelines can be downloaded from the PAHO Web site:

PAHO, which also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve health and raise living standards.

For further information contact: Daniel Epstein, tel (202) 974-3459 , fax (202) 974-3143, Office of Public Information, email ,Internet