Mental health huge task in China quake zone: WHO
Sunday, 22 June 2008

BEIJING, Fri Jun 20, ( - As many as 10 percent of those affected by the earthquake in southwest China will need long-term mental health care, the World Health Organisation said on Friday, adding the region had a chance to build a better healthcare system.

Health services should include more capacity for psychological care, as well as rehabilitation facilities for the huge numbers who lost limbs when the 7.9 magnitude quake struck on May 12.

"What we know is that everyone who has gone through something like this will have some kind of need of psychological support," Hans Troedsson, the WHO's China representative, told a news conference.

Much of that support could be provided within the community as schools resume classes and lives begin to get back to normal.

"We also know that usually up to 10 percent will need more professional mental health services," he said. "It is an area that has sometimes not gotten the attention it requires."

Hospitals were overwhelmed by sheer numbers in the days following the quake that killed at least 70,000, but for those who managed to reach medical help, the fatality rate was low, Troedsson said,

In the weeks following, there have been no major outbreaks of disease.

The WHO was also in the process of consulting with the Chinese government on rebuilding hospitals to withstand future natural disasters.

The process should add only 2 to 5 percent to the cost of a new building, but it was vital such safety measures be incorporated into the design to be effective, officials said.

"These are not add-ons, they are fundamental decisions to be made at the start of the design," said Tony Gibbs, an engineering consultant to the WHO.

Rebuilding Sichuan's healthcare offered an opportunity to address some of the issues plaguing China's medical system, which include a lack of trained healthcare workers in rural areas, the WHO officials said.

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