The first cases of diarrhea (some in combination with vomiting) have been confirmed, but according to the Health Crisis Team which is carefully monitoring the situation, there is no outbreak at this moment. Each case of diarrhea is reported to a special surveillance unit within the Health Crisis Team. This team analyzes and compares the data with data from other years and other areas so that informed judgments can be made.
A small malaria outbreak has been detected in Asigron, near the Brokopondo Lake. Suriname’s Director of Health, Dr. Marthelise Eersel, stresses that this outbreak is not directly related to the flooding. However, the risk of an outbreak is real and prevention and early treatment measures are urgently needed. PAHO/WHO has prepared and submitted a proposal for malaria control.
Water and Sanitation
The affected areas in Suriname are primarily populated by indigenous groups that are accustomed to drinking rainwater. (In very dry seasons, some villagers are forced to drink from the creeks or rivers, which usually increases the number of diarrhea cases.) Some villagers have complained about the smell and dirt in the river, which is most probably caused by sediment, rotten food and garbage that was swept into the river by the floods. In these circumstances, the best access to safe drinking water is to collect rainwater. Distributing bottled water to the interior is impractical, considering the costs and space needed to transport it to these remote areas and the additional waste of plastic empty bottles that stay in the environment.
The best alternative is to purify water on the spot. This is not only a matter of technical concern. The cultures and habits of the population are just as important. For example: will people actually drink water that is purified with chlorine?
Ton Vlugman, PAHO water and sanitation engineer, has done a preliminary assessment in the two affected areas. Fortunately, he found that most villages are not short of rainwater at this moment. Sanitation however, remains a problem. There is a clear need for good sanitation systems in the area.
National Disaster Coordination Centre
The National Coordination Centre has established five hubs from where they continue to distribute food and hygiene packages (the latter donated by the Red Cross Society). Purified water is also distributed, but not in large quantities.
All volunteers, military staff and police going into the field are first vaccinated for Hepatitis B and Yellow Fever. They also receive an impregnated bed net and malaria prophylaxis. First aid responders being sent to the field are also supplied with the necessary kits. Police and military have been assisting in transporting sick people to the clinics run by the Medical Mission, which are present in all areas.
Ministry of Health
The Surinamese Ministry of Health is working in the interior through the Medical Mission, an old and successful system of small health clinics and local health workers serving the approximately 37,000 people living in the interior. These 52 clinics have already proven to be very successful in disease monitoring and in providing updates on the general situation in the interior, as there is daily radio contact from the Medical Mission Headquarters with all the clinics.
All people in the interior commonly visit the health clinics of the Medical Mission, even if they have to travel for hours on the river to get there. Recently, travel to the clinics has become more complicated with roads being flooded, limited availability of fuel and less boats available on the river. Medical Mission has requested the National Coordination Centre to assist in the transport of sick people to the clinics. Currently, all 52 clinics of the Medical Mission are operational again. Four of them were flooded, but three of them managed to continue operations on higher grounds.
The Ministry of Health formed a special crisis team to address occurring and expected health concerns. This group meets daily to discuss emerging issues regarding disease surveillance, medical supplies, water quality issues and health communication.
A quick assessment of medical supplies on stock has just been finalized and the Ministry of Health is preparing a request for medical supplies that are needed to cope with emerging health threats related to the flooding .
Pan American Health Organization
PAHO/WHO has actively supported the national response to the flooding with the deployment of technical experts. The PAHO/WHO office in Suriname has provided telecommunications and administrative support to the Emergency Operations Centre. Now that systems are in place, PAHO/WHO is focusing more on its core task of supporting the Ministry of Health in safeguarding the health of the affected people by preparing concrete plans for improving water and sanitation and for prevention for and response to malaria and other communicable diseases.