World News

Water, drugs are Haiti's biggest need

(Reuters) - Clean water and antibiotics are among the biggest needs for Haiti, where the capital was devastated by a huge earthquake that killed up to 100,000 people, health experts say.

A Canadian evacuee from Haiti cries after she arrives at Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, January 15, 2010. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Rescuers are struggling even to get to Port-au-Prince, where unknown numbers of victims remain buried under rubble and thousands are sleeping out in the open.

Josh Ruxin, a Columbia University public health expert living and working in Rwanda, said Haiti was already struggling with AIDS, tuberculosis, childhood diseases and malnutrition.

Here are some of the health threats that rescuers and doctors will battle in the coming days and weeks:

* Finding survivors trapped beneath rubble and treatment for people with major injuries.

* Diarrheal disease, caused by dirty water. Diarrhea can be treated with clean water reinforced with salt and sugar. But that will not be available, so many children and elderly patients can die quickly.

* Infections of wounds caused by the quake. Antibiotics and clean bandages can help but there is no way to distribute them and hospitals and pharmacies have been destroyed.

* Children may be at special risk, said Dr. Irwin Redlener of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. “What these kids are going to need are trained and experienced pediatric surgeons and neurosurgeons,” Redlener said.

* Redlener said 40 percent of Haiti’s population was made up of children under the age of 14, far more than in most countries. “I am concerned that as we start digging through that rubble, we are going to see more kids than people anticipated,” Redlener said.

* Outbreaks of infections such as cholera, caused not by dead bodies but by contamination of the limited water supply.

* The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates about 3 million were injured or are homeless. The Pan American Health Organization, or PAHO, cites “a variety of sources” as estimating 50,000 to 100,000 people are dead.

* Ruxin and PAHO said that long term, hospitals should be built to withstand disasters, with robust funding to keep them operating.

* Proper burials. PAHO’s Dr. Jon Andrus said dead bodies did not pose a health threat and proper burial could help ease the mental anguish certain to affect survivors.

Reporting by Maggie Fox in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney