Haiti's public health failures impair earthquake relief effort: WHO

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The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that Haiti's public health failures have impaired the earthquake relief effort.

During opening remarks for the Executive Board meeting in Geneva, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said: "Already, this disaster ranks among the most devastating and logistically challenging in recent history. We are seeing the difficulties that arise when disaster strikes an already disastrous public health situation."

According to the WHO's public health risk assessment on Haiti, the likelihood of infection and tetanus resulting from trauma wounds is high, as vaccination rates are minimal.

Chan said that Haiti is marked by "diseases associated with poor sanitation systems, low immunization coverage and widespread malnutrition, outbreaks of infectious diseases, a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, and erratic delivery of medicines and care."

The WHO hopes to address these concerns with mass vaccinations for measles and tetanus, as well as increased access to care.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and ranks 149 out of 182 countries on the 2007 United Nations Human Development Index. Last Tuesday, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, causing an estimated 50,000 deaths.

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