Ecuador: “The most important thing is health”

Published: 27 April 2016 23:06 CET

When Colombian Red Cross Public Health Coordinator Dr José Leber Imbachi arrived in the earthquake-affected canton of Pedernales, he found out that 80 per cent of the houses had collapsed. “People lost everything and now they are sleeping next to the road, which may cause traffic accidents. People are lying down on mattresses on the streets. This is very dangerous, they are risking their lives,” he says.

Dr Leber arrived in Ecuador on Monday 18 April as part of a 78-strong group of Colombian Red Cross staff and volunteers, which was divided into a search and rescue team and a health team including doctors, nurses and psychologists. The eight-day deployment was coordinated by the Ecuadorean Red Cross.

During the operation, the scale of the destruction in this area became clear. Initial assessments were carried out in the communities in order to provide timely and organized assistance.  

“The most important thing in emergencies is to recover health facilities and guarantee that everyone has access to health services,” Dr Leber says.

“Regarding immunization, it is essential that all children continue to follow their vaccination chart, and that the system can reach them to prevent them from getting sick.  We noticed an increase in consultations for non-communicable diseases.  For instance, diabetes and hypertension are common reasons for consultation, because health services are suspended especially in rural areas.”

Dr Leber warns that mental illnesses and psychosocial problems will increase following the earthquake, as people have lost everything and are experiencing high levels of anxiety arising from fear of aftershocks and also from uncertainty about their futures.  

Vector-borne diseases such as the Zika virus, dengue and chikungunya – all transmitted by the mosquito Aedes aegypti - will also pose a great risk to the areas affected by the earthquake, due to an increase in stagnant water and a lack of vector control activities in the aftermath of the disaster. Dr Leber stresses the need of strengthening water and sanitation activities and raising community awareness to keep implement vector control measures in order to reduce the risks.    

The population affected by the earthquake also faces the risk of water-related diseases caused by drinking contaminated water.

“We have reported an increase in diarrhea episodes, particularly among people living in temporary shelters,” says Dr Leber. “The water supply is just beginning to be restored, people are not washing their hands before cooking and they are not drinking safe water. We need to make great efforts to improve primary health care, in addition to water, sanitation and hygiene conditions, and strengthen excreta and solid waste disposal capacity.”