WHO Says Myanmar Responded Well to Cyclone Victims

by Rajashri on Sep 5 2008 1:28 PM

The World Health Organisation has said that Myanmar's military rulers provided a rapid response to victims of Cyclone Nargis last May despite criticism for shunning foreign aid.

"In the first week, the Ministry of Health had already sent around 50 doctors from Yangon General Hospital" to the worst-affected areas, WHO emergency relief coordinator Rudi Coninx told AFP.

"Within the first week they had all the staff necessary... I thought that worked quite well," he said.

Coninx was the only official from WHO's headquarters in Geneva who was immediately able to go to Myanmar straight after the cyclone struck on May 2-3 as he happened to have a current visa.

He said he found "lots of very committed people at the Ministry of Health, who were working day and night," adding this was all the more laudable given that Myanmar only spends around 1.4 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on health.

WHO's deputy regional director for Southeast Asia, Poonam Singh, said that despite media reports, the government was "actually doing quite a lot to meet the health needs of the people.

"Right from the beginning, the WHO representative to Myanmar met every morning with the health ministry and we managed to get around the visa restrictions by recruiting locals," she told the WHO's internal Bulletin newsletter.

The WHO estimates that 84,537 people died in the cyclone with a further 53,836 missing, and that Myanmar needs two billion dollars to rebuild shattered health facilities, some three quarters of which were damaged or destroyed in the storm.

Myanmar's ruling generals drew worldwide condemnation for blocking foreign aid from entering the country in the crucial days after the cyclone pummelled the Irrawaddy delta.

Last month, the United Nations said 1.56 million dollars (about one million euros) of international cyclone aid has been lost due to the military regime's complex foreign currency rules.