Update on Tsunami Survivors: Mental Health a Big Concern


I'm Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Many health officials warned about the possible spread of diseases after the tsunami waves in the Indian Ocean in December. So far, the World Health Organization reports no major outbreaks of disease in the countries affected.

W.H.O. officials say international efforts to provide clean water have helped limit the spread of infections. So have shipments of medicine and mosquito-control supplies.

But the W.H.O. says people are still at great risk of diseases such as cholera, malaria and dengue fever. The agency noted earlier this month that the dengue season is just beginning.

Dengue fever and malaria are spread by the bite of mosquitoes. Cholera is an intestinal infection spread through water polluted with bacteria.

Another big concern involves the emotional condition of tsunami survivors. Experts say stress-related disorders such as fear or depression can continue for several years if people do not get help.

Last month, Indonesia launched a mental health campaign to assist survivors. A Health Ministry official told Reuters news agency that six hundred fifty thousand refugees need help. If not, he said an estimated twenty to fifty percent could develop what he called "serious mental problems."

The Indonesian official said the campaign would depend mostly on simple communication to help people deal with their situations. Experts note that many Asians reject Western forms of treatment, such as the use of anti-depression drugs.

Some efforts to help tsunami survivors involve religion. In Thailand, the Associated Press reported that specially trained Buddhist monks have been talking to survivors.

A Thai Health Ministry official said some people cannot sleep or look at the sea. Others cannot take their mind off waiting for the return of a missing loved one.

The Associated Press said Thailand has sent hundreds of mental health experts to the affected areas. And an international group of experts met in Bangkok this month to discuss how to help people in all the affected countries.

On December twenty-sixth, a powerful earthquake sent waves across southern Asia and eastern Africa. At least one hundred sixty thousand people in eleven countries were killed. Many more lost their homes. Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand suffered the most damage.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Gwen Outen.