Professor Mike Toole AM writes for The Conversation exploring the health issues that could face the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
Here is an excerpt of that article.
Once again, a cataclysmic disaster has hit an Asian nation. But a well co-ordinated aid response mindful of lessons from other disasters could mean a faster recovery.
Last Friday, Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Yolanda) brought unprecedented winds of up to 275 kilometres an hour ashore in central Philippines. The typhoon destroyed everything in its path, affecting more than nine million people.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), approximately 660,000 people are currently displaced with around 60% of these inside 1,316 evacuation centres.
Officials in the Leyte province have reported that as many as 10,000 people may have died in Tacloban City alone, and the number of casualties is expected to increase.
The danger from infectious diseases
Asia is disproportionately affected by the wrath of nature. Of the 1.3 million people killed by natural disasters across the world during the first decade of this century, more than 860,000 were Asians.
But will this disaster be followed by another catastrophe, in the form of epidemics of infectious diseases? Experience from similar disasters suggests not.
Disaster-related deaths and injuries are overwhelmingly caused by the initial traumatic impact of the event. The risk of outbreaks is often presumed to be high in the chaos that follows natural disasters.
This fear is probably the result of a perceived link between unburied dead bodies and widespread disease. But there’s no evidence that dead bodies pose a risk for epidemics after natural disasters.
Nonetheless, the risk for outbreaks after disasters is frequently exaggerated by both health officials and the media. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even published a useful list of myths and realities about disaster situations.