March 6, 2010 in Nation/World

Chilean doctors concerned

Unsanitary conditions could spark disease outbreaks
Michael Warren And Eva Vergara Associated Press
 

Chilean nurse Alejandra Pena helps organize beds Friday at a field hospital sent by the Peruvian government in Concepcion, Chile.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

CONCEPCION, Chile – Chile launched a hepatitis and tetanus vaccination campaign Friday and doctors warned of outbreaks of diarrhea and infection among thousands of people displaced by the earthquake and the tsunami that heavily damaged or destroyed 36 hospitals and made garbage dumps of coastal towns and cities.

With many pharmacies looted, people suffering from diabetes, hypertension and psychological illnesses are going without medicine.

Doctors report increasing cases of diarrhea among people drinking unclean water and worry that huge piles of garbage and tons of rotting fish and other debris along the coast have become nests of infection. A growing number of patients are getting injured as they wade through the mess.

“We are going to keep needing water, electric systems, a functioning sewage system. We need to clean up rotting fish in the streets. We need chemical toilets, and when it starts raining, people living in tents are going to get wet and sick. All this is going to cause infections,” said Talcahuano Mayor Gaston Saavedra, whose port city was heavily damaged by the Feb. 27 quake and tsunami.

Chile said more than a dozen of its own military and civilian field hospitals were operating Friday. Mobile hospitals from a half-dozen other countries also were opening or about to open – an unusual situation for a country that proudly sends rescue and relief teams to the world’s trouble spots.

But most of the foreign units weren’t treating anyone a week after the disaster. Chile insisted donor nations first figure out how to coordinate with Chile’s advanced, if wounded, public health system.

A Peruvian field hospital opened in Concepcion on Thursday with three operating rooms and 28 beds. But surgeons and trauma specialists stood with their arms crossed Friday, waiting for patients to be sent by local health officials.

Chile signed an operating agreement for a U.S. field hospital Friday, enabling 57 U.S. military personnel to work side by side with civilian Chilean doctors in coming days to support a population of 3,000 in the town of Angol. Two U.S. Air National Guard C-130 transport planes were en route to Chile to help deliver supplies.

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