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Epidemic Prevention Measures Intensified

Despite no major disease outbreaks so far in quake-hit regions, health and epidemic prevention efforts continue apace, said Sun Jiahai, spokesman for the Ministry of Health.

Major challenges include poor living and public health conditions, largely destroyed disease monitoring and containment systems and limited access to some of the worst- hit areas, he told the press yesterday.

Increasing potential for disease as the weather gets warmer also poses a serious challenge, Qi Xiaoqiu, head of the ministry's disease control bureau, said.

Cases of fever and diarrhea among the displaced have risen in the past few days, he said.

Increasing fears is the fact mass diarrhea outbreaks were witnessed after the 7.8-magnitude Tangshan earthquake in 1976, according to Feng Zijian, head of the emergency response department at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, the ministry remains highly confident it can prevent outbreaks, Qi said.

It has been working intensively to implement a comprehensive epidemic surveillance and containment system in disaster areas right across Sichuan.

Public health teams responsible for preventing infections and maintaining public environments and personal hygiene are working in every affected village, township and county, said Chen Xiangyi, director of the ministry's emergency response department.

Up to now, nearly 10,000 specialists in epidemic control and prevention from across the country have been dispatched to prevent secondary disasters, he said.

"During my three decades in the ministry, this is the largest mobilization effort in post-disaster disease containment," Qi said.

"And there is no timetable for the effort," said Chen.

"As long as there is such need in the affected areas, the services won't come to an end."

The ministry has set up a makeshift reporting system relying on special mobile phones with solar batteries, he said.

Trained health workers at every treatment facility and shelter are required daily to brief the ministry and China CDC on emerging health threats, Chen said.

"More and more spots on the ground will be covered by the new system to ensure accurate and timely reporting of any disease outbreak," he said.

In the event of major health problems, local health officials are required to immediately visit the sites and implement countermeasures as soon as possible, he said.

In addition, the emergency inoculation of people susceptible to infectious diseases will be completed by June 15, Sun said.

"It will help prevent infections like hepatitis A and encephalitis B."

By the middle of next month, the ministry will have stockpiled 100,000 vaccines for the prevention of cholera, 20,000 for hydrophobia and 30,000 for measles, he added.

(Xinhua News Agency May 28, 2008)

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