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The BBC's Jane Bennett-Powell
"It's a tragedy which does not grab headlines"
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The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"India is also frequently hit by natural disasters"
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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK
Diseases are the 'silent disasters'
Turkish earthquake
Disasters like the Turkish earthquake kill less than infectious disease
Infectious diseases kill far more people than high profile earthquakes, floods and other disasters, but do not get the emergency relief to match, an international charity has warned.

The death toll last year from Aids, malaria, diarrhoea and other infectious diseases was 160 times higher than that from natural disasters including the Turkish earthquakes, Venezuelan floods and Indian cyclones, it says.

Once a disease like Aids reaches the kind of proportions we see in sub-Saharan Africa it is no longer a disease, it is a disaster

Peter Walker, Red Cross and Crescent International
The Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies says most of the 13m deaths from the diseases last year could have been prevented at a cost of just $5 per person.

It says that money always following the headline-grabbing disasters may not always be the best way to spend the money.

Peter Walker, director of disaster policy for Red Cross and Crescent International, said: "Once a disease like Aids reaches the kind of proportions we see in sub-Saharan Africa it is no longer a disease, it is a disaster.

"Such a widespread disease destroys the workforce and shatters the economy."

He said at least nine African countries were facing this kind of threat.

The Federation said governments around the world were abandoning their responsibility for preventive health care.

Growing urbanisation, climate change and environmental pollution were also contributing to the problem.

As a result, diseases which were under control are now reappearing - malaria is returning in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, North Korea has had 40,000 cases of tuberculosis this year.


Russia has seen the number of cases of syphilis increase 40-fold since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Federation's annual report on world disasters says spending on emergency aid rose in 1998 for the first time in four years, but health funding continued to fall.

The report supported low-cost, grassroots health campaigns, which had been successful in Uganda for HIV sufferers, Cambodia for dengue fever and Sudan for meningitis vaccinations.

Dr Hakan Sandbladh, Red Cross and Crescent International health director, said: "Governments are slipping on their responsibilities for immunisation and basic preventive health care.

"But pouring money into national health systems is not cost effective because 70% of it gets siphoned into big hospitals.

"It's not spending money on expensive equipment and hospitals that saves lives, its changing peoples' behaviour."

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See also:

28 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Red Cross warns on climate
12 May 99 | Aids
Aids Africa's top killer
17 Jun 99 | Medical notes
Infectious disease
26 May 98 | T-Z
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