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Solomon Islands at risk of malaria outbreaks and other health concerns, warns UN

Solomon Islands at risk of malaria outbreaks and other health concerns, warns UN

The Solomon Islands faces potentially serious health problems in the wake of Monday’s deadly tsunami, United Nations humanitarian agencies warned today, with diarrhoea outbreaks already being reported in camps for the displaced and a surge expected in the number of malaria cases.

Shortages of clean drinking water, adequate sanitation facilities and the medicines and materials to prevent malaria are the biggest causes of concern, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a press release.

International assistance in the form of UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and neighbouring Governments has arrived in the Solomon Islands, where at least 34 people were killed on Monday. Many others remain missing and the death toll is expected to rise. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes and forced to seek makeshift shelter.

Monday’s tsunami, which also affected neighbouring Papua New Guinea, was triggered by an earthquake measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale which struck 345 kilometres northwest of Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. Since then, there have been almost 30 smaller aftershocks, although no further damage has been reported.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said its regional unit for malaria and vector-borne diseases is working with its country office in the Solomon Islands to try to prevent malaria outbreaks.

Although the South Pacific nation’s malaria control has improved in recent years, thanks to more active case detection and greater use of insecticide-treated bed nets, the number of mosquito breeding sites will have also increased in the wake of the tsunami.

Given the time it takes to contract and incubate malaria, WHO expects the number of malaria cases to rise over the next two months.

Diarrhoea outbreaks have been reported in some of the camps for the displaced, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – which yesterday issued an urgent appeal for $500,000 to help in relief efforts – is assessing the damage to water and sanitation facilities and what is required to restore or replace them.

Water purification tablets, jerry cans and water tanks have already been identified by UNICEF as priority needs, and the Fund has also pre-positioned emergency medical supplies that include measles vaccines and vitamin A supplements for children aged between four months and six years.