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Weak infrastructure makes disasters worse

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A Naval aircraft handler watches as a Marine CH-53e lands on the deck of the USS Bataan off the east coast of the United States, Jan. 16, 2010. The USS Bataan is transporting the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit to Haiti to assist with the relief effort following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti Jan. 12. UPI/Kevin Dietsch .. | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/d7513cc9d7be2e31e2ec45700ed985e7/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A Naval aircraft handler watches as a Marine CH-53e lands on the deck of the USS Bataan off the east coast of the United States, Jan. 16, 2010. The USS Bataan is transporting the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit to Haiti to assist with the relief effort following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti Jan. 12. UPI/Kevin Dietsch .. | License Photo

GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- If infrastructures are weak the vulnerability of populations to disasters is vastly increased, the head of the World Health Organization said in Switzerland.

Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said making hospitals safe during emergencies was the theme for last year's World Health Day.

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"One point is obvious. This strong link between weak infrastructures and capacities and the vulnerability of populations applies to many other areas of public health," Chan said in a speech Monday to the WHO executive board.

"The almost unbelievable damage to infrastructure extends to hospitals and health centers. The WHO premises were damaged, but we are operational. A WHO/Pan American Health Organization team of specialists is on the ground and is spearheading the health response to the earthquake."

Many of the problems WHO tries to prevent after a disaster were already present in Haiti. These include diseases associated with poor water and sanitation systems; low immunization coverage and widespread malnutrition; outbreaks of infectious diseases; a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis; and erratic delivery of medicines and care, Chan said.

"We have every reason to be concerned about the health of survivors," Chan said.

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