In a follow-up to a report earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Friday that they and partner organizations in Nepal have mobilized further resources including medicine and medical equipment to prevent the possible spread of diarrhoeal diseases among populations affected by the country’s devastating earthquake.

Vibrio cholerae

“After an earthquake of this magnitude, the water supply is often damaged and contaminated, increasing the risk that people drinking it could develop diarrhoeal diseases,” says Dr Lin Aung, WHO’s Representative to Nepal. “The crowded living conditions in temporary shelters increase the chance that these types of diseases could spread.”

Since Saturday’s disaster, at least 2.8 million people have been displaced either because their houses have been destroyed or because they are too afraid of aftershocks to remain in their homes. Many are living in precarious conditions, including in 16 makeshift camps in Kathmandu. There, they are exposed to the elements, often with little more than a tarpaulin for shelter.

Providing safe water supplies and sanitation facilities

In addition to setting up systems to identify these diseases early, WHO, the Government and other health partners are providing safe water supplies and sanitation facilities, such as pit latrines and mobile toilets, to the camps. Work is also underway to improve hygiene promotion in these locations.

“WHO has been supplying chlorine tablets to treat drinking water and materials including soap and towels to improve hygiene, which reduces the risk of disease,” says Payden, WHO’s Regional Advisor for Water, Sanitation and Health.

In addition WHO is bringing in kits containing medicines and medical equipment to treat cases of diarrhoeal diseases. The kits contain IV fluids, antibiotics, oral rehydration salts, disinfectant, and other supplies and information so that all health workers have what they need.

Preventing diarrhoeal disease

Some sporadic cases of diarrhoeal disease have been reported in the camps, but so far, the number of cases has not exceeded expectations, given the living conditions and recent heavy rains.

“No camps have reported an increase in disease that is out of the ordinary. There is no evidence of an outbreak at this point,” according to Dr Patrick Duigan, Program Manager at the International Organization of Migration (IOM), which is responsible for establishing and maintaining appropriate makeshift accommodation for the displaced.

Dr Duigan emphasizes that WHO, IOM and the Government of Nepal are working in close coordination to prevent such an outbreak. “IOM is working with WHO and the Government of Nepal to collect information on the number of people in camps, the conditions within them and to ensure they have access to health services,” he adds.