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WHO Hails Government, Medical Response Following China Quake

World Health Organization (WHO) officials on Friday praised the Chinese government's rapid response and the work ethic of medical personnel following last month's massive earthquake that has claimed nearly 70,000 lives and left more than 17,000 missing.

The comments came after the WHO task force surveyed health measures in the quake-hit zone in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

During the June 13-16 tour, the team visited Chengdu, Dujiangyan and several rural villages close to the epicenter.

They inspected two city hospitals, two village health centers, a district hospital, a field hospital and a temporary settlement.

"We were highly impressed with the government's response," team leader Dr. Jose Luis Zeballos told a press conference. He served as the program coordinator for the rehabilitation process after the Peru earthquake of August 2007.

"Rarely have we seen such rapid deployment of assistance to populations in need," he said. "This response has carried through to the rapid building of temporary housing, at least in the areas we visited."

Dr. Hans Troedsson, the WHO China Representative, said during his visit to Sichuan earlier this month, "I saw for myself the huge destruction wrought by the earthquake, and also the heroism and work ethic of the medical personnel.

"I was deeply moved by the dedication of the people we met, who continued to perform their duty even when they themselves had experienced grave personal losses," he said.

So far, there have been no reports of outbreaks of disease in the quake zone, according to the representative.

Since the 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12, the WHO has provided support to China in various ways, including providing water purification, basic medical equipment, drugs and surgical equipment.

The WHO has also provided training to nurses and volunteers to help deal with the psychological impact of the disaster.

As the inspection team leader, Zeballos proposed that China take the lead in committing itself to the UN/WHO concept of "Hospitals Safe From Disasters" for the rebuilding of hospitals.

This means building hospitals that not only withstand the impact of a disaster but are still functional immediately thereafter.

"Our experience is that this is not an expensive thing if you have this concept in mind from the very beginning of the design phase," he said.

He also pointed out the need for health care workers to develop skills in handling the population's psychosocial needs and the need for more workers who are able to provide support to the many handicapped in the community.

(Xinhua News Agency June 21, 2008)

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